BRAVE NEW HISTORY! Jonathan Chait kept his trap shut back then. Today, he invents some new history: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2007
WHAT DIGBY SAID: We thought the Digster was sadly on target in these comments about Sundays Meet the Press. (I just suffered through one of the most excruciating experiences of my life.) For ourselves, we dont have a problem with Bill Cosbys views about the state of the black (and brown; and white) community. For our money, his views (to the extent that they exist) are in the reasonable range; so are the views of many people who disagree with his points of emphasis. But Cosby blathered and rambled and failed to focus in his hour-long session with Russert. Occasionally, Dr. Alvin Poussaint stopped deferring to Cosby and tried to help. Frankly, he didnt help much.
Its all too perfect to see Bob Herbert heap praise on this session today; this was celebrity punditry at its most gruesome, and other celebrities rarely notice. We assume that Cosby (and Russert) mean well, but this was a wasted opportunity. For once, Russert didnt blow the hour with the weeks latest scripted inane campaign blather. For once, he devoted the hour to real issues. And he didnt do well—not at all.
Often, Cosby was just embarrassing. Youd think a person with a new book could bring his thoughts into sharp focus—but no sharp focus was present this day. As we squirmed, we thought of people wed like to see questioned on Meet the Press—questioned about their specific, focused attempts to help the nations deserving black youth, those beautiful, deserving kids we taught long ago, right here in this citys struggling schools:
1) Two years ago, former Post columnist Williams Raspberry returned to his home in Mississippi to run an institute designed to help young, low-income parents learn how to raise more successful children (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/17/05). Low-literacy parents often dont know about certain aspects of parenting—things that higher-literacy parents do know. They love their children—but may not know how to prepare them for later success in school. (Without help, we wouldnt know how to raise a child to be a ballet star. Same idea.) Wed love to know how this project is proceeding. Have similar projects been tried?For that matter, Russert seemed to have spent ten minutes preparing for his hour with Cosby. The hour was designed to make us feel good—and was often painful to watch. In this way, celebrity and celebrity-driven ratings trump the needs of actual kids. And celebrity pundits will always be there to praise such boffo sessions.
Stay in school! And: Raise up your kids! This morning, a big scribe agrees.
PARANOIA: Then again, it did give Russert a way to avoid discussing Gores Nobel prize. To the paranoiacs out there, everybody seemed to have found one. Russert spent the hour with Cosby. Dowd gave her column to Stephen Colbert. And Frankly, Rich decided to spend the day calling us a bunch of good Germans. Apparently, he couldnt find a way to his favorite analysis: This proves that Al Gores a big fake.
Omigod! Sometimes, we just have to treat ourselves to a good solid laugh when we watch these top plutocrats work.
BRAVE NEW HISTORY: Readers were troubled by our comments about Paul Krugmans most recent column—the one in which he discusses what he calls Gore Derangement Syndrome. We understand their feelings—and their loyalties. Krugman has been, and will continue to be, a powerful, heroic force in American journalism; by light-years, he has been the most important journalist on his high level in the past decade. But for years, mainstream reporters and careful liberals have struggled to avoid telling the truth about the shape of our recent presspolitics—and the mainstream press corps two-year War against Gore lies at the heart of that awkward story. At present, an odd new paradigm has begun to emerge as liberals look for ways to distort the Gore story—and Krugmans column fits the Brave New History they are starting to tell.
Whats the shape of this puzzling new narrative—a narrative which keeps voters in the dark about the work of their mainstream press corps? In this new narrative, youre allowed to discuss the trashing of Gore—but you have to say it was done by right-wingers. (The mainstream press must be disappeared.) And an even more amazing suggestion is becoming part of this Brave New History: The suggestion that the trashing of Gore began or peaked only after Bush reached the White House.
Both parts of this narrative are utter fantasies—but the narrative seems to be floating around. Before we look at Krugmans column, lets consider that piece by Jonathan Chait in this Sundays Los Angeles Times—the utterly puzzling op-ed piece which presents this new account of our history.
Leading liberals have spent eight years refusing to tell the truth about Gore—refusing to discuss the war the mainstream press corps waged against him when he ran for the White House. Chaits puzzling piece defines a new way to avoid this embarrassing history.
Heres the way Chaits piece begins. He starts with a perfectly accurate fact—then attempts to explain it:
CHAIT (10/14/07): When Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, conservatives reacted with apoplexy. Talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, conservative bloggers and other Republican faithful denounced the prize as a fraud.Chait starts with a perfectly accurate fact; many conservatives did react with apoplexy when Gore was awarded the Nobel prize. But Chait then attempts to explain why this happened. The answer is that Gore's triumph is a measure of George W. Bush's disrepute, he confidently, and vaguely, declares. Chaits meaning isnt yet clear at that point. So he attempts to explain it:
CHAIT (continuing directly): Indeed, in the political culture, Gore's role is as a negative indicator of the president's standing. For all the talk of a "new Al Gore," there's nothing new about the man. His public reputation is almost entirely a function of Bush's.Gores public reputation is almost entirely a function of Bush's? For ourselves, we still dont have the slightest idea what that formulation means. But now, as Chaits rumination continues, he finally begins to flesh out his meaning. Unfortunately, he makes an assertion that is simply, completely absurd:
CHAIT (continuing directly): The high point of Bush's prestige came in the months after Sept. 11, 2001. As Bush put it in a year-end interview: "All in all, it's been a fabulous year for Laura and me." (It certainly was, if you could put aside the 3,000 American deaths, which Bush apparently could.)Again, Chait is right about one thing; the months which followed 9/11 did begin the period which constitutes the high point of Bushs prestige. Bushs poll numbers went through the roof, and his standing remained quite high until the war in Iraq began to fail, several years later. But it is simply insane—its a vast invention—to say that the period after 9/11 was also the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore.As we reached the end of 2001, Gore had been aggressively ridiculed for almost three years—by the width and breadth of the mainstream press corps. The ridicule began in March 1999, the first time Gore opened his mouth as a candidate; the press corps ridicule achieved full cyclone force within a week of that event (examples below). It is absurd to say that it became more fashionable to ridicule Gore in late 2001—unless youre looking for a way to disappear the vast misconduct which happened earlier, the misconduct which occurred among Chaits own class, indeed right at Chaits flunky journal.
But then, Chait plays the public for rubes/suckers/fools when he makes this puzzling assertion. Heres his fuller attempt to support this claim—a claim which is convenient to gentlemen of his fine class but, in point of fact, quite absurd:
CHAIT: That was also the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore. He was described as "goofily bearded" or "sulking." Democrats were publicly declaring they were glad Bush, and not Gore, was in the Oval Office.In these two paragraphs, Chait fleshes out the claim that the period after 9/11 was the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore. But his evidence is cherry-picked and absurdly flimsy. In some ways, his claims are just false.
After 9/11, Democrats were publicly declaring they were glad Bush, and not Gore, was in the Oval Office, Chait writes. But based on the evidence that is offered, this claim is simply untrue. In fact, that staunch Gore backer whom Chait quotes was speaking off the record (if he exists); he was anonymously quoted by the New York Times Richard Berke, described as a former senator. Berkes article, which seems to be Chaits primary or only source, was notable because only one of the handful of Democrats Berke claimed to quote was being quoted on the record; when Chait says these Dems were publicly declaring, hes saying that seems untrue. (Berkes article included a string of other Democrats, on the record, who publicly disagreed with the notion that Bush would be the better war leader.) Meanwhile, Berke fails to note the actual source of the other belittling comments he quotes. It was a mainstream journalist, the Washington Posts Al Kamen, who described Gore as goofily bearded. And it was a mainstream journalist, New York Times reporter Dean Murphy, who alone described Gore as sulking during this period. (Were working from the Nexis archives, September 11 through the end of 2001.) Truth to tell, were surprised there werent more sulkings too. But simply put, Gore was not a principal focus during this post 9-11 period. Its absurd to suggest that this was the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore—unless youre constructing the latest narrative designed to disappear the loathsome conduct of yourself and your foppish colleagues during the period when Gore really was savaged, in ways that put Bush where he is. Of course, fine young gentlemen like Brother Chait have been now performing that service for more than eight years.
Was late 2001 really the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore? Good God! The notion is simply absurd. As noted, Gore began to campaign for the White House in March 1999 (March 9, to be exact). With a week, the press corps had assembled the Standard Group Narrative which would control so much future work—the notion that Candidate Gore was a weirdly delusional liar. The ridicule was instant—and ubiquitous. By March 16, 1999, the corps had established a favorite narrative: Al Gore said he invented the Internet! And they had tied it to an earlier tale, the one Dowd and Rich invented in 1997: Al Gore said he inspired Love Story! Result? Their ridicule was all over cable. Heres a gruesome sample from Hardball; then-Republican congressman Joe Scarborough joins Chris Matthews and USA Todays Tom Squitieri as they ridicule Gore for his alleged crazy statements:
SCARBOROUGH (3/16/99): I mean, every time he steps out, he stubs his toe...Now hes the father of the Internet, or the fifth Beatle or whatever it was. And, and—Scarborough was right about one thing, of course. His party would be able to embarrass Gore in the years ahead—with the endless assistance of mainstream journalists like Matthews and Squitieri. Indeed, Gore was mocked by four cable pundits in a similar session the very next day. On CNNs Inside Politics, co-hosts Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw let Margaret Carlson and Tucker Carlson misstate a wide range of elementary facts. For pundits eager to ridicule Gore, another favorite had now gone on the play-list: Al Gore said he grew up on a farm, when he really grew up here in Washington:
TUCKER CARLSON (3/17/99): You had Gore, yesterday, telling voters at a campaign stop, about how he spent his childhood plowing steep hillsides with a mule team. Which, I mean, there are a couple—first, its terrible for the environment to be plowing steep hillsides with anything. And second, its hard to imagine, you know, what steep hillside at St. Albans he was plowing. But this is, this is part of—We cant take time to detail all the misstatements involved there. But just to take one pungent example: No, the Gores never lived at the Ritz-Carlton. But so what? The inaccurate statement heightened the mockery, so Carlson tossed it onto the pile. (Moments later, she called Gore hyperbolic!) Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson misstated the (perfectly accurate) comments Gore had made about his youthful farm chores (to a reporter, not on the trail)—and he cited the wholly irrelevant fact that Gore had attended St. Albans. And of course, Al Gore said he invented the Internet! The loathsome Woodruff introduced the claim when her laughing guests failed to do so. But then, this mocking claim was already iconic among the capitals insider journalists. On March 18, four all-star pundits ridiculed Gore on Fox News Channels Special Report. At one point, NPRs Mara Liasson harmonized nicely with the Weekly Standards Fred Barnes:
LIASSON (3/18/99): Al Gores problem looks like its turning into hyperbole because of course he had a role in pushing the Internet. He was one of the people in Congress who at a very early stage understood—Plainly, Liasson knew about Gores congressional role in creating the Internet—but she bowed to Barnes wisdom anyway. He said he invented the Internet, Barnes said—which is not true, she agreed.
This is just a small taste of the ridicule dumped on Gores head—in March 1999, the instant he started his run for the White House. And this level of ridicule never abated during his twenty-month run for the White House. But Chait was a well-trained boy back then—and he displays the same virtues today. It is beyond absurd to pretend that late 2001 was the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore. Indeed, within the cohort that will one day make Chait rich and famous, it has been highly fashionable to ridicule Gore over the course of the past eight-plus years! (Did anyone read the Washington Post when Gores book came out this year?) Indeed, Gore was barely discussed in late 2001, as compared to the gruesome trashing which occurred all through 1999 and 2000. This gruesome conduct sent Bush to the White House—and Chait kept his trap tightly shut as it did. But then, so did the other good, fine boys at the good and fine New Republic. Democratic voters didnt understand the press corps conduct—because the Jonathan Chaits knew they mustnt tattle. You could see the press corps contempt for Gore by May 1999, Josh Marshall said—three years later.
Chaits column in Sundays Los Angeles Times invents a new and bizarre reality—and it disappears embarrassing history as it does. Chait disappears his own cohorts conduct, and even pretends that the ridicule of Gore reached its high point in 2001. But then, the most amazing thing about Chaits piece is the fact that the Times would print such blather at all. Just drink in the sheer absurdity as Chait continues from above:
CHAIT (continuing directly): It's not an accident that the current celebrations of Gore come at a time when Bush's popularity has cratered. Once conservatives mocked Gore as the radical tribune of a tiny political fringe; now it is they who represent the fringe.Note again: In the Brave New History the scribe constructs, it is only conservatives who ever mocked Gore. But what does Chait mean when he says, Its not an accident that the current celebrations of Gore come at a time when Bush's popularity has cratered? We have no idea, and he never explains it. To state the obvious, the current celebrations of Gore are occurring because he just won the Nobel Peace Prize! But Chaits weird piece is full of weird statements. Try to limn this one, for instance:
CHAIT: Some of us prefer a president like Gore no matter what. But many people don't have a strong preference, or don't think very hard about what Gore would have been like as president. Therefore, he lacks a positive identity; people think of him only as the anti-Bush.In this passage, Chait explains what people think. According to Chait, people—well guess that pretty much means everyone—think of Gore only as the anti-Bush. We have no idea what that means, why Chait says it, or why the Times would print such blather. But if pimps and fools are given their way, some such nonsense will likely prevail.
At any rate, Chaits weird column defines a new history—a Brave New History which is simply delusional. In this new history, only conservatives have ever mocked Gore; the mainstream press corps has been disappeared. Indeed, were even supposed to believe that mocking Gore came into fashion post-9/11! But then, in this well-raised boys Brave New Tale, there are some epochs that cant be discussed. The following passage illustrates something else you should look for in the press corps emerging pseudo-histories:
CHAIT: The defensiveness of Gore's critics comes because he is the ultimate rebuke to Bush. Gore, obviously, is the great historic counter-factual, the man who would have been president if Florida had a functioning ballot system. More than that, he is the anti-Bush. He is intellectual and introverted, while Bush is simplistic and backslapping.Please note one more Brave New Rule: When we discuss Campaign 2000, were allowed to discuss what happened in Florida. But uh-oh! Everything which happened before that episode will have to be disappeared.
Understand the rules? Youre allowed to say the right wing savaged Gore. And youre allowed to rail about what happened in Florida. But youre not allowed to mention the press. 1999? It must now disappear.
But then, what happened in the twenty months before the fiasco in Florida? During that period, Chaits future pay-masters ridiculed and lied about Gore, in an astonishing twenty-month war—and Chait and the rest of the well-trained lads sat around and allowed it to happen. So Chait is inventing new history today, covering up this undesirable conduct. (Wait till you see what he says in his book!) Theyve refused to discuss it for more than eight years; now, this column defines the latest way this cohort is obscuring the shape of your history. In this way, the public is kept from understanding the shape of its plutocratic press corps. But this Brave New Paradigm is starting to spread, even to bold, brilliant Krugman.
TOMORROW: Omigod! Even Kruggers!
UNBELIEVABLY STUPID: Its unbelievably stupid to say that the months after 9/11 constitute the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore. As you may recall, September 11 happened late in 2001. And it had been exceptionally fashionable to ridicule Gore for several years before that.
Indeed, in June 1999, Gore gave the formal announcement speech for his White House campaign—and Post media reporter Howard Kurtz devoted a long report to an obvious question: Why was Gore receiving such harsh coverage and punditry in the mainstream press? As we have long and quite uselessly noted, Roger Simon and Jim Warren answered Kurtzs question quite directly; they also explained why the press corps was badgering Gore about the troubling blow jobs Bill Clinton had received from their favorite wet dream, Miss Lewinsky. Here is Simon, explaining the ridicule dumped on Gores head while the lads at The New Republic kept their lips tightly shut:
KURTZ (6/25/99): Roger Simon, chief political writer for U.S. News & World Report, defended the focus on Lewinsky: "It's still the story that has shaped our time. We want to hear him [Gore] say what a terrible reprobate the president was, while defending his record. We're going to make him jump through the hoops. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.Good God! According to Simon, the mainstream press corps was going to make Gore jump through the hoops until he said what a terrible reprobate Bill Clinton was. Warren told Kurtz something similar. And like the rest of his high-toned cohort, Jonathan Chait read those startling words—and he kept his big trap shut.
This all occurred in the first half of 1999, when the War Against Gore started up, at an absolute fever pitch. Nothing in the post-9/11 period dimly resembled this level of mockery. That is, until Chait began thinking—inventing the latest way to keep the rubes from understanding the ways of their plutocrat press corps.