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INCOMPARABLE DOUBLE DAILY HOWLER! Will Saletan thinks we done him wrong. And Eric Alterman lays out some cold facts:


CHUCKLES THE PUNDIT: Could anyone be dumber, or more transparent, than the tireless spinner, Andrew Sullivan? Here’s his presentation this morning on John Edwards’ forthcoming speech:

EDWARDS VS. GORE: A smarter tack from the smarter candidate. Edwards’ criticism of Bush’s 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 Gore’s previous centrism in the Democratic Party. He’s wily, this guy. And flagging the speech to the Washington Post beforehand is worthy of Blair.
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 remember—this 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 naked—and “fatuous.” No wonder Sully loves Edwards so much. He must see him when he looks in the mirror.

By the way: Releasing the speech to the Washington Post? Gee, no one would ever think of that!

The real question here is very simple—what are the merits of Edwards’ position? In a rational world, once you’ve said that his outlook is “fatuous,” the discussion should pretty much end. But in our world, that’s 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?”

We’re 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 children’s 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. Superman’s 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. It’s time we all learned how to spot them.

AN ASTONISHING EPISODE: Eric Alterman ain’t a Gore-lover. “Personally, I never really liked Gore,” he writes, “and he’s 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 media’s 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 corps—watching the debate in a large TV room—booed, jeered, and laughed at Gore throughout the hour-long session (full quotes below). And, although Alterman doesn’t 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 Gore’s troubling clothing. (“Was it part of his reinvention strategy?” she asked. “Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—‘I am not a well-dressed man.’ It is hard to imagine that [Gore] thought to ingratiate himself with the nation’s earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station.”) She also complained about Gore’s 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 Gore’s sweating may have been planned, so inauthentic was the hopeful’s 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 months—from 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 Gore’s troubling clothes. But big, rich pundits like Mary McGrory don’t stoop to comment on matters like health care. They have excellent health care themselves, and to all appearances, they simply don’t care about anyone else. “Dysfunctional” is too kind a word to describe this group’s noxious performance.

In his short piece, Alterman doesn’t 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 can’t 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, we’re inclined to credit that general view, but motive don’t matter too much in the end. Whatever explains the corps’ misconduct, that misconduct has continued to this very day—stamping our insider press corps as the most dysfunctional of all our professional elites. For reasons we won’t enumerate now, no other sector could dream of behaving in the remarkable way this group does.

We advise you to peruse the Alterman piece. Let’s 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 comments—and making an utter, unvarnished joke of your right to a serious discourse.

It’s a simple call—those 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 point—but then again, we don’t. In his column, Will puzzled at Bob Torricelli’s 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 Torricelli’s internal campaign surveys. In New Jersey, a state that hasn’t elected a Republican senator in 30 years, that’s hard to do. How did Torricelli manage it? By combining the worst of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Al D'Amato.
Incredible, isn’t it? According to Will, Torch didn’t drop because he was seen as a crook—he dropped because he behaved like Al Gore! Here’s how the Willmeister splained it:
SALETAN: Maybe Torricelli’s offenses weren’t inherently fatal. Maybe if Clinton had been in Torricelli’s shoes, he could have survived. But Torricelli didn’t have Clinton’s personality. He had Gore’s. He accused Forrester of “risky schemes” and talked endlessly about fighting. “So many years and so many fights,” he recalled fondly at Monday’s 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 strange—but 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, Forrester’s web site had a section which was headlined with the term “risky scheme.” Thanks to Atrios for this link.) To state the obvious, there’s nothing wrong with Forrester saying “risky scheme,” and there’s nothing wrong with Torricelli saying it either. But we drew amusement from the fact that Forrester—who had shot ahead in the polls—had 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 we’re 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 didn’t intend to convey that impression; obviously, the fact that there is no recorded instance of a statement doesn’t mean that it never was made. But let’s get clear about what we did mean. We did mean to convey the following thought: It was utterly absurd—and deeply unfair—to drag Gore into Torricelli’s 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. Will’s 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 idea—the idea that Torch’s 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 matter—other pols will become press corps targets). But reflexive trashing has become this gang’s 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 journalists—all present in Hanover that night—described this remarkable incident:

Howard Mortman, then of The Hotline, appeared with us on that newsletter’s cable program:

MORTMAN: I do stick to the story that the media groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something.

SOMERBY: I think that’s amazing. I think that’s amazing.

OFF-CAMERA PANELIST: What happened with Bradley?

MORTMAN: Stone silence. Really.

Eric Pooley reviewed the debate for Time:
POOLEY: [Gore’s attempt to connect with the audience] was unmistakable—and even touching—but 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, Salon’s Jake Tapper appeared on C-SPAN’s 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 that’s the only time I’ve ever heard the press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party at any event.
So you’ll 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 worse—and 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 Saletan’s pseudo-analysis? In the current New Republic, Jonathan Cohn profiles Jennifer Granholm, the Dem nominee for governor of Michigan. Here’s how she acts on the stump:

COHN: The word that keeps coming up over and over again in Granholm’s 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 Michigan’s 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. “It’s 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.”

It’s amazing to think that this could be said of someone prepared to say “fight,” just like Gore. And it’s amazing to think that Saletan’s 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 Crowley’s 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, you’re wrong—we’re not making that up. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/02.