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Daily Howler: Uncle Tom Friedman calls Whitewater bogus--seventeen years too late
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UNCLE TOM’S CRABBIN’! Uncle Tom Friedman calls Whitewater bogus–seventeen years too late: // link // print // previous // next //

The sound of two hands waving: Yesterday, we were puzzled by part of the transcript from Glenn Beck’s meeting with those moms (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/29/09). In his usual semi-hinged way, Beck was discussing two major topics—the impending death of the dollar and the tyranny of making children take all sorts of shots:

BECK (9/28/09): Real quick—I don't want to go down this road. I just want to get a hand-raise on this answer. How many people believe that it is a real possibility that in five years, the dollar no longer exists?

That is incredible. That is incredible. Two hands. Two hands. All right. This one I want to talk about—parents losing their rights. As a dad, I have had this wrestle in my mind and I'm doing homework on it right now. I'm talking to one of the top five doctors in the world and I'm trying to find out the flu. Am I going to allow the government to give my child a flu shot?


For a fuller discussion about all those shots, see yesterday’s DAILY HOWLER. But just for the record, we finally remembered why Beck said “Two hands. Two hands. All right,” in that part of the discussion.

In fact, a sea of hands went up when Beck asked if the dollar might cease to exist. But one of the moms felt so sure that she put both hands in the air! When Beck said “That is incredible,” he referred to the large show of hands. When he said “Two hands. All right,” he was hailing that two-handed waver.

In the short segment we posted yesterday, Beck was pushing two major ideas. First, the dollar may cease to exist. Second, you shouldn’t send your children to school because they have to take so many shots.

Our question: Has the New York Times been slow to react to these “conservative” concerns?

If we lived in a rational world, what would a newspaper do?

Special report: You may live in an idiocracy if!

PART 3—UNCLE TOM’S CRABBIN’: Do you currently live in an idiocracy? To us, the evidence is rather clear. In his 2006 film of that name, Mike Judge almost made this form of government sound like a bad thing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/29/09). But whatever you think of idiocracy itself, you’ve lived under its aegis for quite some time. Just consider the evidence:

On Monday, Paul Krugman spoke about coming climate disaster. “[W]e’re hurtling toward catastrophe,” he correctly noted, “but nobody wants to hear about it or do anything to avert it.”

That would be one obvious sign of full-blown idiocracy.

On Tuesday, Bob Herbert devoted an entire column to fawning praise for the world’s richest person. We should follow Bill Gates on education, Herbert wrote. But he completely forgot to say what Gates thinks about the subject.

Herbert writes this column every year. Do you live in an idiocracy? That column came straight from the textbook.

But it isn’t just climate disaster and education. Our society seems unwilling/unable to discuss any serious topic. Plainly, that includes health care. Latest example tomorrow.

Then, today, it’s Thomas Friedman, one of your culture’s best known penseurs. Do you live in an idiocracy? Friedman, one of our most soulful fellows, has started to “wonder” about the way his society reasons. Flummoxed by something he sees on the web, he ends up typing this:

FRIEDMAN (9/30/09): The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots.” But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system.


I would argue that together these changes add up to a difference of degree that is a difference in kind— a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest.

“[M]e wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer,” Friedman rather oddly says. At any rate, he blames this breakdown on various trends which have converged “in the last decade.”

Translation: Friedman slept through the previous decade. Indeed, we thought of that long, destructive slumber when we read this earlier part of his column:

FRIEDMAN (9/30/09): Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face. There is no more “we” in American politics at a time when “we” have these huge problems—the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—that “we” can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective “we” at work.

Sometimes I wonder whether George H.W. Bush, president “41,” will be remembered as our last “legitimate” president. The right impeached Bill Clinton and hounded him from Day 1 with the bogus Whitewater “scandal.” George W. Bush was elected under a cloud because of the Florida voting mess, and his critics on the left never let him forget it.

And Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist” to calling him a “liar” in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.

Frightened by Fox, Friedman singles out Dobbs. And he creates some odd bits of moral equivalence. But it was his statement about Whitewater which grabbed our analysts’ eyeballs. Let’s ponder that statement again:

The right impeached Bill Clinton and hounded him from Day 1 with the bogus Whitewater “scandal.”

Intriguing! Whitewater was a bogus “scandal,” used by “the right” to “hound” Bill Clinton. It was so bogus he even puts the word “scandal” inside scare-quotes!

Of course, that pseudo-scandal was an artifact of the 1990s, not of Friedman’s troubling “last decade.” The analysts woke us with an excellent question: What did Friedman say about this “bogus ‘scandal’” when it mattered, back in real time?

Most likely, the answer won’t surprise you. When you live in an idiocracy, the largest newspapers hire Uncle Toms—hacks—who avert their gaze from the workings of power. What did this particular hand say about Whitewater when it mattered—when President Clinton was being hounded? Readers, that’s an excellent question! Though the answer won’t likely surprise.

Friedman has been a columnist at the Times roughly since the invention of noise. According to the Nexis records, his first reference to “Bill Clinton” occurred in March 1992. But his first reference to “Whitewater” didn’t occur for five years after that! And how weird! This is what he wrote at that time, about this bogus non-scandal:

FRIEDMAN (5/19/97): Does Ken Starr do diplomacy?

I ask because it's now clear that NATO expansion is the Whitewater of the Clinton foreign policy. Like Whitewater, NATO expansion began with a poorly financed, poorly conceived real estate deal, sold to Bill Clinton by fast-talking policy hucksters. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, the Clintons were told, would be brought into NATO, it would cost the Clintons (and America) virtually nothing, and when the deal was over Mr. Clinton's place in history would be elevated, NATO would be stronger, Europe more secure and Russia more pliable. The President thought about NATO expansion about as long as he thought about Whitewater, plunked down his money and has been paying ever since.

As the President began to discover the real costs of his NATO land deal, instead of walking away, he adopted the Whitewater strategy: Try to cover up the costs with dubious Rube Goldberg diplomatic contraptions and tell everyone something a little bit different. Like Whitewater, the cover-up is worse than the original deal, and the ultimate costs far greater than if he had just walked away.

By May 1997, Whitewater had already given its name to an era. But in this, Friedman’s first explicit reference, he forgot to call it a “bogus ‘scandal’” used by “the right” to “hound” our president. Instead, he used Whitewater to ridicule Clinton! He even hit the computer key which produced a Standard Spin-Bite of the era: In Whitewater, “the cover-up is worse than the original deal,” Friedman recited this day.

In that column, Friedman somehow forgot to say that Whitewater was a “bogus” pseudo-scandal. Eleven months later, he forgot again, when he made his next reference to Whitewater. By now, the world had heard of Miss Lewinsky. The Headlong Chase was on:

FRIEDMAN (4/4/98): You can learn a lot about President Clinton's predicament by studying the news conferences he recently held with two other world leaders...

The Blair-Clinton press conference was held a few weeks ago in the East Room of the White House. The contrast between the two men was most telling. Tony Blair was so relaxed. He was smart, articulate, assertive, with an obviously masterly grasp of a wide range of domestic and international issues. Mr. Clinton, by contrast, was edgy, tight, defensive, treating every question with all the relaxation of a man catching live grenades.

It was hard not to look at Mr. Blair and think: “There goes Bill Clinton—without Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, Whitewater, Travelgate . . .” That is, Tony Blair reminds us of the President Bill Clinton could have been, could have looked like, had he not been weighed down, scarred and wounded by so many self-inflicted moral gunshots.

Lord knows, Mr. Clinton has his political shortcomings. He has never had much feel for traditional, balance-of-power security issues. But he intuitively grasped, far better than any of his challengers, the issues involved in the great transition we're now in from the industrial age to the information age to the global age, which is changing everyone's job, workplace and community. With his political skills, and the strong economic winds at his back, Mr. Clinton could have been spending all his time, energy and the peace dividend retooling the New Deal welfare state into one fully designed for this new era. He could have been presiding over one of the most exciting and prosperous turning points in American history. Now, instead, he will be lucky to limp out his term. It's hard to use the bully pulpit from the witness stand.

From that prose, it’s hard to tease the notion that Whitewater was a “bogus ‘scandal.’” Why, it almost seemed that Friedman called it a “self-inflicted moral gunshot!” But then, Friedman was even pimping such buffoons as Willey and Flowers this day. In all the excitement, he completely forgot to tell Times readers how “bogus” Whitewater was!

According to the Nexis archives, Friedman’s next explicit reference to Whitewater occurred in 2005. According to Nexis, today’s column represents his coming-out—his first announcement that the Whitewater “scandal” was actually “bogus.”

Can we talk? Friedman almost seems like an Uncle Tom, a willing tool to dominant interests. And of course, the ascension of such men to power would be one mark of idiocracy.

As we talk, can we offer some context? Friedman announces, this very day, that the Whitewater “scandal” was bogus. His announcement is less than timely:

It has now been seventeen years since the first bungled Whitewater story appeared—on the front page of Friedman’s own newspaper.

It has now been fifteen years since Harper’s published “Fool for Scandal,” an article by Gene Lyons. Lyons’ piece debunked the New York Times’ bungled work. Harper’s is a rather well-known American journal of thought.

It has now been fifteen years since Lyons published an op-ed column, “The Non-Scandal That Won’t Quit,” in the Washington Post, a well-known newspaper.

It has been thirteen years since Harper’s published Lyons’ book, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.

It has been nine years since the publication of The Hunting of the President, by Lyons and Joe Conason.

In short, Friedman is rather late to the game with today’s announcement. But that’s exactly how things work inside an idiocracy! Inside the mainstream press corps, everybody knew the rules in the 1990s—you had to bury Lyons’ work, which went right after the mainstream press corps. By now, a great many years have passed. At long last, it’s safe for store-bought fellows like Friedman to tell Times readers the truth—but only in passing, of course.

Let’s be fair! We only single Friedman out because his column appears today. On Monday night, the gruesome dandy Lawrence O’Donnell played a related game on Countdown. And of course, that program’s $5 million man ran off and hid in the late 1990s, blubbering in the arms of Roger Ailes rather than staying to tell the truth about what was happening around him. (Olbermann publicly apologized to Ailes for criticizing Matt Drudge, then accepted big-bucks employment at Fox Sports. He kept his pretty trap shut tight all through the Clinton impeachment and the subsequent War Against Gore. Today, of course, he’s on your side—paid $5 million to play there.)

In short, the “liberal” world played the lead role in the hunting down of Clinton, then Gore. You may live in an idiocracy if:

The people who agreed to perform those tasks can be hailed as “liberal” giants, with no questions ever asked.

On Monday, we thought Paul Krugman was right on target, as he typically is—but insufficiently shrill. Yes, it’s striking when a society refuses to discuss climate change. But in fact, your society can’t discuss any issue! Bob Herbert can’t discuss education; to this day, we have seen no one attempt to explain the gonzo state of our health care spending. It isn’t that we don’t discuss it well. We don’t discuss it at all!

This morning, Friedman makes a rather odd statement. “[M]e wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer,” he clumsily says. He wonders whether we can do that? Isn’t the truth rather clear?

In the midst of all this idiocracy, the liberal world still hails the people who conspired to take down Clinton, then Gore. No questions are asked of our liberal heroes, who now play progressives on TV! They, no less than Roman Polanksi, have remained free to roam the world. Now, Polanski has stepped in a trap. Their free range continues.

Do you live in an idiocracy? When the Corns start resembling the Dowds, we’d have to Judge that you do.

Tomorrow—Part 4: The Corns and the Dowds.