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Daily Howler: The New York Times keeps telling the tale about the once-great Saint McCain
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THEY STILL SAY THEY MET THE MOST WONDERFUL MAN! The New York Times keeps telling the tale about the once-great Saint McCain: // link // print // previous // next //

THE POWER OF PLURALIZATION: Some readers won’t care for the following point; in this particular case, they’ll prefer the effect of pluralization. But we noticed the following error in today’s New York Times editorial—and it illustrates a basic way journalists sometimes embellish the facts. It repeats a misstatement we saw several times, just yesterday, on the liberal web. Ah, the power of pluralization! This particular type of misstatement has been used against you for years:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (10/8/08): [Palin’s] demagoguery has elicited some frightening, intolerable responses. A recent Washington Post report said at a rally in Florida this week a man yelled “kill him!” as Ms. Palin delivered that line and others shouted epithets at an African-American member of a TV crew.

The Times refers to this “sketch” by Dana Milbank, a highly unreliable chronicler. But in fact, Milbank only described one person at Palin’s rally shouting one epithet at that TV crew member. (“One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man.”) This morning, in her Times news report, Julie Bosman reports the same thing:

BOSMAN (10/8/08): From Jacksonville in the northeast to Pensacola in the Panhandle, the fiery crowds gathered to jeer at any hint of liberalism, boo loudly at the mere mention of Senator Barack Obama’s name and heckle the traveling press corps (at a rally in Clearwater, one man hurled a racial epithet at a television cameraman).

One man hurled a racial epithet. But that’s exactly what Milbank had said in the Post, one day before.

It’s the power of pluralization! As we’ve told you down through the years: One example becomes much more powerful when we stick an “s” on the end. In this case, one epithet-shouter turns into a group. How many people were shouting those epithets? The editors let you imagine.

By the way: Why didn’t Bosman report this event yesterday, in real time? Perhaps her editor told her this: A single epithet isn’t news. Reporting it is much like “nut-picking.”

Some of you may be upset; you may have liked the (inaccurate) plural better. But this technique has been used against you for years. It’s one way our scribes improve news.

THEY STILL SAY THEY MET THE MOST WONDERFUL MAN: Meanwhile, those same Times editors still believe they met the most wonderful man in the world! In their fantasies, they met that wonderful man years ago—but now, that man has changed, as men will. Here’s their latest silly account, in which they cling to a treasured old novel:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (continuing directly): Mr. McCain’s aides haven’t even tried to hide their cynical tactics, saying they were “going negative” in hopes of shifting attention away from the financial crisis—and by implication Mr. McCain’s stumbling response.

We certainly expected better from Mr. McCain, who once showed withering contempt for win-at-any-cost politics. He was driven out of the 2000 Republican primaries by this sort of smear, orchestrated by some of the same people who are now running his campaign.

Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! The editors expected much better! In the 1990s, they met the most wonderful man. But now, that man has changed.

To that, we again say this: Bunk.

When exactly did McCain show this “withering contempt for win-at-any-cost politics?” In our view, he showed this contempt in the press corps’ novel—a novel the New York Times is still typing. By way of contrast, if we consider the actual world of the 2000 race, we think that description is bunk.

For the record, McCain wasn’t exactly “driven out of the 2000 Republican primaries by this sort of smear.” The editors seem to refer to the South Carolina primary, which featured a great deal of nasty, underground sliming. But McCain continued campaigning after that, winning subsequent primaries in six states (including Michigan and Massachusetts), losing primaries in eleven others (including a 61-35 drubbing in California). (For the full list of primaries, click here, scroll down.) McCain got waxed in a string of states—but there was never any particular claim that “smears” decided those races. McCain was substantially outspent by Bush, and Republican voters tended to prefer Bush’s more conservative posture. (In most of those states, independents couldn’t vote, unlike in New Hampshire, where they’d given McCain his big win.) But in the press corps’ treasured novel, a deeply noble, wonderful man was driven from the race by a goon squad.

Such things did occur in South Carolina. But at the same time, the greatest man in the world was doing these things himself:

  • He was baldly misstating Bush’s budget proposal.
  • He was running negatives ads which so offended Republican voters that he had to take them down—dramatically, of course.
  • He was boiling over with obvious anger in the South Carolina debate—moderated by Larry King.
  • He was lying about his actual views concerning the confederate flag. (Or so he later said.)
  • He was paying large sums to two race men—presumably, to build his in-state conservative bona fides.
  • He was making a series of bogus claims about negative flyers his campaign was distributing, in contravention of previous pledges.
  • He was running anonymous phone calls in Michigan, painting Bush as anti-Catholic.
  • He was lying, right in the face of the press, when asked if he was running those phone calls. (His campaign finally fessed up—the morning after the Michigan primary.)
  • He was parading about, repeatedly saying he was going to “beat Al Gore like a drum”—even as the press corps praised him for his wonderfully uplifting politics.
  • He was repeatedly telling a story about Gore and the Buddhist temple that was baldly inaccurate.

We’re not quite sure what made the press think they’d met the most wonderful man; it seemed to involve the stories he told them about his stripper ex-girl friend. (And about that model in Rio. And let’s not forget the free donuts!) But they had their novel—a novel they loved—and they recite it, right to this day. They insist that they met the most wonderful man. And that he’s changed, as men will.

Pundits cling to this lovely tale; some even deny that a change has occurred! This morning, on C-Span’s Washington Journal, Jonathan Capehart became the latest scribe to say McCain hates all this negative stuff. To Capehart, he’s still the same great man—though his greatness has been placed on hold.

Taking one more small advantage: In their editorial, the editors may seem to be quoting aides to McCain when they put “going negative” inside quotes. But uh-oh! According to Nexis, no McCain aide has been quoted using that phrase in the Times, or in any other paper. It’s one more way these lazy losers hand themselves an advantage. Their novels pull together much better when they cut corners these ways.

Meanwhile, even the Parson: Meanwhile, Oh. Our. God. Even the Parson! In the current Newsweek, even Jon Meacham is making a break from the piffle-fed past. Here’s the headline, and the synopsis, on his cover story:

The Palin Problem
Yes, she won the debate by not imploding. But governing requires knowledge, and mindless populism is just that—mindless.

Oh. Our. God. Meacham has swallowed every piece of Republican palaver in the past dozen years. But now, even he is saying “mindless” as he takes in the Palin drone. Even he is upset to think that Palin couldn’t answer Couric’s question about the Supreme Court (see his troubled opening paragraph). Even Meacham, clearing his throat, is dumping a sixteen-year narrative.

For the bulk of the past sixteen years, there was nothing so foolish that the press wouldn’t buy it—if it trashed a Big Major Dem or bucked up a Big Major Rep. (The Clintons were murderers! Gore was delusional! Toilet-trained liberals just sat there and took it.) But now, even the Meachams are changing their tune, in the face of financial disaster and a war culture. But even as they flee the ship, many such pundits still insist that they once met the most wonderful man. Some of them say that man has changed. Some say that, deep down, he’s the same.

Please note: Meacham throws old allies a bone even as he exits their ship. “Palin won the debate by not imploding,” the Newsweek synopsis improbably claims. (In the real world, she lost the debate in every poll, by substantial margins.) So familiar! Eight years ago, the whole darn press corps screamed that script following Bush and Gore’s first debate. (For a detailed account of an astonishing episode, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06.) In this way, they bucked up Bush—and launched the ship they’re now fleeing.

This week, even the Parson has thrown down The Book! Truly, a new order dawns.