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||INCOMPARABLE DOUBLE DAILY HOWLER! Will Saletan thinks we done him wrong. And Eric Alterman lays out some cold facts:|
MONDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2002
CHUCKLES THE PUNDIT: Could anyone be dumber, or more transparent, than the tireless spinner, Andrew Sullivan? Heres his presentation this morning on John Edwards forthcoming speech:
Only in the world of spinning pundits can the smarter pol churn fatuous stuff. In this case, though, the fatuous stuff comes from Official Approved Edwards, so he's applauded by Sullivan as wily! By contrast, Gore is derided in nasty ways when he is perceived to play the political games which Sully attributes to Edwards. But rememberthis is the sort of dimwit fare we get when scribes survey our pols mental states. Will our pundits ever stop their mentalist games? The spinning here is nakedand fatuous. No wonder Sully loves Edwards so much. He must see him when he looks in the mirror.
EDWARDS VS. GORE: A smarter tack from the smarter candidate. Edwards criticism of Bushs foreign policy strikes me as fatuous stuff. But by supporting the Iraq war so intently, Edwards has carved out a position of a far more credibility than the increasingly bitter Gore. And so his speech today should be seen less as a serious attack on Bush than as a statement that he is the true inheritor of Gores previous centrism in the Democratic Party. Hes wily, this guy. And flagging the speech to the Washington Post beforehand is worthy of Blair.
By the way: Releasing the speech to the Washington Post? Gee, no one would ever think of that!
The real question here is very simplewhat are the merits of Edwards position? In a rational world, once youve said that his outlook is fatuous, the discussion should pretty much end. But in our world, thats when our pundits start spinning us blue. Clearly, Sullivan ranks his readers at Mental Age 3. Why in the world do they stand for this treatment? And how did we get condemned to a world where unvarnished, unbridled spinning like this takes the place of our great public discourse?
Were reminded of the great Superman episode involving Chuckles the Clown. (Memories may differ.) An impostor has captured the kind-hearted harlequin; the poser begins to stage public events as Chuckles, planning to steal the childrens charity money. But the real Chuckles escapes, and, in a terrible struggle, one Chuckles pushes the other off a roof, then falls off the roof himself. Superman appears, and saves the clown who was pushed. This turns out to be the real Chuckles. But Superman, how did you know which Chuckles to save? Lois Lane incomparably asks. Supermans logic was deeply human: I knew the real Chuckles the Clown could never push a man to his death. Our modern world is full of impostors. Its time we all learned how to spot them.
AN ASTONISHING EPISODE: Eric Alterman aint a Gore-lover. Personally, I never really liked Gore, he writes, and hes not my choice for 2004. But, writing in the current Nation, Alterman reviews one of the most remarkable episodes in modern press history. Something about Al Gore brings out the worst in people, he says, and nowhere is this more true than in the so-called liberal media. A slightly longer passage:
ALTERMAN: Something about Al Gore brings out the worst in people, and nowhere is this truer than in the so-called liberal media.
The intensity of the medias anti-Gore obsession is a bit bizarre, but even more so, given the strictures of journalistic objectivity, is the lack of compunction they feel about openly demonstrating it.
As an example, Alterman describes the astonishing scene at the first Gore-Bradley debate (Hanover, New Hampshire; October 27, 1999). According to three journalists who were in attendance, the press corpswatching the debate in a large TV roombooed, jeered, and laughed at Gore throughout the hour-long session (full quotes below). And, although Alterman doesnt discuss this point, the post-debate punditry was every bit as bizarre. How did pundits review the session? Gore was aggressively criticized for getting off his stool when he spoke (Margaret Carlson); for walking to the front of the stage when he spoke (Mary McGrory); for referring to citizens by their names (many pundits); and for taking extra questions from citizens post-debate (the deluge). McGrory began her Washington Post column with a lengthy trashing of Gores troubling clothing. (Was it part of his reinvention strategy? she asked. Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statementI am not a well-dressed man. It is hard to imagine that [Gore] thought to ingratiate himself with the nations earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station.) She also complained about Gores troubling clothes in her next WashPost column. At Slate, meanwhile, Jacob Weisberg compared Gore to a feral animal; crude sex-and-animal imagery prevailed in many subsequent pundit appraisals. How bizarre were pundits prepared to be as they pushed their Prevailing Preferred Line? On CNN, William Schneider may have taken the prize. Gore perspired, perhaps that was planned, to make himself look like a fighter, he said. Schneider understood The Official Press Line: Al Gore is a massive phony. According to Schneider, even Gores sweating may have been planned, so inauthentic was the hopefuls presentation. In ways like this, from start to finish, your booing, jeering, pandering press corps made a joke of your White House campaign. Their conduct lasted for twenty monthsfrom March 1999 right through to the election.
In this space, it is impossible to describe the gonzo punditry which followed this first Dem debate. But that booing, jeering, hissing press corps behaved just as Alterman described. Their lack of compunction about openly demonstrating their anti-Gore obsession was revealed, not just in their press room misconduct, but in the way they reviewed the debate. By the way: In the debate, Gore and Bradley focussed on their health care proposals. Which pol made the better points? McGrory never bothered to say. She wasted two columns on Gores troubling clothes. But big, rich pundits like Mary McGrory dont stoop to comment on matters like health care. They have excellent health care themselves, and to all appearances, they simply dont care about anyone else. Dysfunctional is too kind a word to describe this groups noxious performance.
In his short piece, Alterman doesnt attempt to explain the corps conduct, which persists to this very day. Why did the press corps behave as it did? Here at THE HOWLER, we cant really tell you. But along the way in Campaign 2000, a number of leading Washington journalists advanced a wholly plausible theory, saying that the endless trashing handed to Gore was an expression of Clinton payback. At THE HOWLER, were inclined to credit that general view, but motive dont matter too much in the end. Whatever explains the corps misconduct, that misconduct has continued to this very daystamping our insider press corps as the most dysfunctional of all our professional elites. For reasons we wont enumerate now, no other sector could dream of behaving in the remarkable way this group does.
We advise you to peruse the Alterman piece. Lets say it again: The press corps coverage of Candidate Gore was one of the most startling episodes in modern press history. The full story, of course, has yet to be told. But there are many Schneiders in the tale, making many ludicrous commentsand making an utter, unvarnished joke of your right to a serious discourse.
Its a simple callthose booing, jeering, laughing journalists should have been fired, right on the spot. Sadly, though, our miseries continue. The press corps boo-birds are still at their desks. Sadly, our boo-birds keep writing.
OUR TAKE ON THE HOTTEST NEW INTERNET FLARE-UP: Will Saletan feels that we were unfair in our treatment of his recent column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/2/02). We take his pointbut then again, we dont. In his column, Will puzzled at Bob Torricellis descent in New Jersey polls:
SALETAN: The latest reports had Torricelli trailing Forrester, a virtual unknown, by 13 points in public polls and by 20 points in Torricellis internal campaign surveys. In New Jersey, a state that hasnt elected a Republican senator in 30 years, thats hard to do. How did Torricelli manage it? By combining the worst of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Al D'Amato.
Incredible, isnt it? According to Will, Torch didnt drop because he was seen as a crookhe dropped because he behaved like Al Gore! Heres how the Willmeister splained it:
SALETAN: Maybe Torricellis offenses werent inherently fatal. Maybe if Clinton had been in Torricellis shoes, he could have survived. But Torricelli didnt have Clintons personality. He had Gores. He accused Forrester of risky schemes and talked endlessly about fighting. So many years and so many fights, he recalled fondly at Mondays press conference. Like Gore, Torricelli spoke like a caricature of a senator, arranging pauses and facial expressions to milk every line for effect. Like Gore, he seemed relentlessly scripted. Like Gore, he looked as though he was lying even when he was telling the truth.
Sorry. We regard that passage as utterly strangebut typical of the besotted era in which the corps has conducted its War Against Gore. Does anyone on earth think the Torch went down because he talked endlessly about fighting? As anyone who watches debates on C-SPAN will know, this kind of talk is completely routine among American politicians (see FIGHT, TEAM, FIGHT, below). And does anyone on earth think the Torch went down because he accused Forrester of a risky scheme? In our research, we were amused to find that the only such jibe recorded in the Nexis file was aimed at Torricelli by Forrester. (As we later learned, Forresters web site had a section which was headlined with the term risky scheme. Thanks to Atrios for this link.) To state the obvious, theres nothing wrong with Forrester saying risky scheme, and theres nothing wrong with Torricelli saying it either. But we drew amusement from the fact that Forresterwho had shot ahead in the pollshad been using the disturbing phrase too. Does anyone on earth think the Torch went down because he employed this locution? Can anyone possibly understand why such nonsense was published by Slate?
Will feels that we gave a false impression, and were more than happy to clarify. Will feels we gave the impression that he made up the claim that Torricelli used the phrase risky scheme. (He sent us deeply troubling examples of Torch using the disturbing expression). We didnt intend to convey that impression; obviously, the fact that there is no recorded instance of a statement doesnt mean that it never was made. But lets get clear about what we did mean. We did mean to convey the following thought: It was utterly absurdand deeply unfairto drag Gore into Torricellis demise. The Torch went down because he was seen as a crook, not because he used the word fight and not because he said risky scheme, and none of that had a thing to do with Gore, as opposed to a thousand pols who use the exact same locutions. So why did Gore turn up in this piece, tied to a man perceived as a crook? Because the cowardly boys of our pundit corps have been sliming Gore in this manner for years. In so doing, they almost surely determined the outcome of the 2000 election; they robbed the public of an intelligent campaign; and they have made it hard to imagine that Gore could compete in 2004. Wills sliming of Gore was minor, but typical. It also, of course, was something else. It was cheap, ugly, stupid and craven.
Did Will invent the claim that Torch said risky scheme? No. What Will invented was an absurd ideathe idea that Torchs recent demise had something to do with Al Gore. But the cowards and bullies of our pundit corps have behaved in just this way for years. In our view, we the people have been far too polite about this inexcusable, stupid conduct.
As Alterman notes, the War on Gore has gone on for years. The booing boys in that Hanover hall disgraced themselves with their conduct that night; since then, they have disgraced themselves and disserved the nation by their endless spinning of Gore. Personally, we think that Will Saletan is far too bright and far too decent to present such silly claims about Gore (or about anyone else, for that matterother pols will become press corps targets). But reflexive trashing has become this gangs way. Do you make Gore your choice for 04? Maybe yes, and maybe no. But whatever the case, you ought to insist that this gonzo press conduct should stop.
WHAT THEY SAID: The booing in that Hanover press room was first described right here in the HOWLER (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/14/99, with links to earlier coverage). Eventually, three journalistsall present in Hanover that nightdescribed this remarkable incident:
Howard Mortman, then of The Hotline, appeared with us on that newsletters cable program:
MORTMAN: I do stick to the story that the media groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something.
Eric Pooley reviewed the debate for Time:
SOMERBY: I think thats amazing. I think thats amazing.
OFF-CAMERA PANELIST: What happened with Bradley?
MORTMAN: Stone silence. Really.
POOLEY: [Gores attempt to connect with the audience] was unmistakableand even touchingbut the 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out by it. Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd.
Some weeks later, Salons Jake Tapper appeared on C-SPANs Washington Journal. He replied to a question about liberal bias:
TAPPER: Well, I can tell you that the only media bias I have detected in terms of a group media bias was, at the first debate between Bill Bradley and Al Gore, there was hissing for Gore in the media room up at Dartmouth College. The reporters were hissing Gore, and thats the only time Ive ever heard the press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party at any event.
So youll know, Mortman is a former Republican campaign worker, who also worked in the Bush I White House.
As noted, the press corps booing was a firing offense. But their post-debate punditry was even worseand made a joke of your White House election. Their gong-show behavior extends to this day. Do they, at last, have no sense of decency? In our experience, they do when they themselves are tweaked, in which case they shed major crocodile tears and extend irate calls for sweet justice.
FIGHT, TEAM, FIGHT! How foolish was Saletans pseudo-analysis? In the current New Republic, Jonathan Cohn profiles Jennifer Granholm, the Dem nominee for governor of Michigan. Heres how she acts on the stump:
COHN: The word that keeps coming up over and over again in Granholms campaign rhetoric is the one that so clearly connected with the UAW workers in Flint: fight. On her website, position papers proclaim that Granholm will fight profiteering drug companies and special interest. In speeches, Granholm touts her willingness to fight for Michigan families inundated by predatory purveyors of filth on the Internet. And in interviews, she talks about her determination to fight for Michigans fair share of federal funds.
Surely, anyone behaving so much like Gore must be dropping like a rock in the polls! Sorry. [P]olls show Granholm with a twelve-point lead over the Republican nominee, Cohn reports. Its a big margin but not all that surprising given her extraordinary performance in the primaries. And what will happen if Granholm wins? Granholm will instantly become a figure of national importance
because her combination of intelligence, charisma and centrist politics makes her an ideal spokesperson for Democratic politics in the early twenty-first century.
Its amazing to think that this could be said of someone prepared to say fight, just like Gore. And its amazing to think that Saletans piece was ever published by a journal like Slate. Only in our devolving press could such nonsense come from high-IQ people.
THE PRESS CORPS IS AS THE PRESS CORPS DOES: For more brilliant work from our puzzling press corps, revisit Michael Crowleys piece in TNR, where he helped us see that John Kerry evinces a distinctly self-indulgent streak because he likes to play the guitar. And no, youre wrongwere not making that up. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/02.