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AN INCOMPARABLE QUESTION FOR THE “PRESS CORPS!” Pundits! What about the RNC? What exactly do you dare to say about the RNC’s conduct and motives?


VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Friday’s Krugman column is well worth reading; it’s amazing to think that major Republicans still camouflage the simplest facts about the Bush tax cuts. But the press corps isn’t likely to worry; indeed, back in the early months of the Bush Admin, major papers struggled hard to pretend that such disinformation was accurate. The Washington Post played some very strange games. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/5/01.

A LONG-RUNNING DRAMA: Timothy Noah’s semi-retraction is actually quite revealing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/17/02). Noah’s original mistake was remarkably minor, buried at the end of a longer story in which the scribe was stunningly fair to Gore. It has been against the law in the insider press corps to do what Noah did in this piece—to sift through evidence, then announce that bogus charges had been made against Gore. But that’s what Noah did on September 24, reviewing Gore’s speech on Iraq. Noah’s judgment? The speech was consistent with Gore’s prior views, he said, contradicting the latest attempt to peddle the view that Al Gore Is Just A Big Lying Phony.

But how did Noah make his (minor) mistake—the mistake he semi-retracted on Tuesday? In his final paragraph on September 24, we see how he fell into error:

NOAH (9/24/02): A Republican National Committee attack memo about Gore’s speech does find one Gore inconsistency, but it’s one that has little bearing on the matter at hand. In the Commonwealth Club speech, Gore said he “felt betrayed” when Bush pere ended the Gulf War without deposing Saddam. Apparently, that claim isn’t true. In April 1991 Gore said on the Senate floor that Bush “should not be blamed” for Saddam’s survival because it was “universally accepted” that “combat should stop” once Iraq was pushed out of Kuwait. These are obviously not the words of somebody who feels betrayed. The other snippets dug up by the RNC, however, fail to demonstrate any further inconsistency.
“Apparently” Gore’s claim wasn’t true, Noah judged, relying—get this—on the RNC for his information. But as Noah acknowledged in Slate this week, even that one alleged “inconsistency” did turn out to be bogus. In short, everything the RNC said in its “memo” turned out to be misleading or false. For roughly the three millionth time in the past four years, the RNC had peddled bogus claims about Gore’s very-troubling character. And by the way—many pundits ran with these claims, once again sliming Gore in the process.

But here’s what is so revealing. Whose motives and competence did Noah challenge when he made his semi-retraction? He challenged THE HOWLER (a Gore shill) and Bob Parry (a “leftist”)—the two entities who actually got the facts right! But what did he say about the RNC—the organization that got the facts wrong? Noah didn’t say Word the First about them, extending a pattern the press corps has followed since the start of the 2000 race.

It’s amazing that Noah—on September 24—still didn’t know that the RNC can’t be trusted. Indeed, all through the 2000 race, the RNC dissembled right in the press corps’ faces. But the insider press corps was deeply involved in the rancid campaign known as “Clinton payback.” They kept typing up RNC swill, saying—get this—that endlessly bogus RNC memos showed that Al Gore can’t be trusted! Despite their hatred of all embellishment, they kept failing to note that the RNC was, in fact, dissembling freely.

In repeated episodes, RNC spin drove the White House campaign. Eager scribes, seeking glory, ran as fast as they could to recite it. If you want to see how easy it was to get the press to type up sheer nonsense, revisit our piece on the fancy hotel (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/8/02). In this utterly stupid episode, RNC chairman Jim Nicholson plainly deceived the press corps. You’d have to be a fool not to know it. Nicholson engaged in exactly the sort of dissembling conduct the press corps loved to hate in Al Gore. Some major newspapers took his bait; other papers passed on his nonsense. But no one—no one—said a word about Nicholson’s plain attempt at deception. The script of the 2000 race was clear: Al Gore has a problem with the truth. Scripted within an inch of their lives, the press corps pretended to be deeply disturbed about Candidate Gore’s very troubling character. Why, they were so concerned about Gore’s nasty lies that they even invented a string of lies, and then pretended that Gore had said them! But a very different standard obtained with outright deceit from the RNC. To this day, Noah seems oblivious to this pattern—and weirdly, he criticizes us, not the RNC, when it turns out that their statements are bogus!

Just how polite will your “press corps” be about the RNC’s endless misconduct? Again, we quote from Noah’s piece on September 24:

NOAH: The other snippets dug up by the RNC, however, fail to demonstrate any further inconsistency.
It sounds as nice as nice can be. But take a look at that RNC “attack memo” (Noah’s term) and read down to its nastiest claim—the claim that Gore “sold his vote [on the Gulf War] for TV time.” This stupid story has been widely panned by Gore biographers. (David Maraniss, The Prince of Tennessee: “Republican Senate leaders Bob Dole and Alan Simpson later ridiculed Gore for trying to shop his vote to whichever side would give him more television time, but that charge evaporates under scrutiny.”) Indeed, the tale makes almost no sense on earth; what pol would decide a career-defining vote on the trivial basis the RNC is still bruiting? Meanwhile, Dole does not assert that Gore engaged in this conduct; although a ten-year-old quote by Dole is still peddled in the RNC’s latest memo, Dole spoke favorably of Gore’s character throughout the 2000 race, even when questioned about this incident. This is rancid stuff from the RNC—stuff no mainstream news org ever touches. But the RNC keeps sliming it around—it’s still widely used by right-wing hacks—and people like Noah politely dismiss the RNC memo without showing any sign that they’ve seen it. This is apparently one of the “snippets” Noah dismissed in the statement above.

Confronted with this stupid swill, what did Noah choose to do? He criticized us and he criticized Parry—people who got the Iraq matter right. And he didn’t say squat about the RNC—the org which had misled him. But so it has gone since March 1999, when the press corps—engaged in their rank “Clinton payback”—began to take their campaign scripts directly from RNC “memos.”

Invented the Internet? Initiated by the RNC (3/11/99; for two days after Gore’s innocuous, March 9 comment, the press corps didn’t say one word about it). The simply astonishing farm chores hoax? Initiated by the RNC (3/17/99, with doctored quotes from the New Yorker to follow). (Everything Gore said in this episode was accurate; every word which Nicholson said was baldly misleading or simply false.) And three months later, the RNC had the addled press corps trooping through that fancy hotel. Nicholson, dissembling as he did all through the race, even conned a group of scribes into calling the sleepy old Fairfax “The Ritz.” But the press corps—deeply disturbed by embellishment—kept failing to notice his embroidery and his outright dissembling.

People who think we have a “press corps” don’t understand the current state of the game. As E. R. Shipp wrote in her seminal ombudsman column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/9/02), this group isn’t really reporting the news; this group has been long “typecasting” a “drama.” Long ago, the “actors” were “assigned their roles,” with Al Gore cast in the role of Big Liar. Even now, when the RNC keeps peddling swill, our Shakespeares know enough not to notice.

On September 24, Noah made a minor mistake. He had been amazingly fair overall. But when will the press corps do its job and dare to challenge the RNC? Our question to Noah: What about the RNC—the ones who, as usual, got this whole matter wrong? You’ve slimed all the parties who get the facts right. But what exactly do you dare to say about the RNC’s conduct and motives?

NOT IN THEIR SCRIPT: During Campaign 2000, your “press corps” was willing to look away from endless dissembling by Nicholson. Consider the hitman’s endless, rank and vile dissembling about Gore and Willie Horton.

On January 25, 2000, Nicholson appeared on CNN. He rattled his usual dimwit attacks. “The American people know they cannot trust this guy,” Nicholson said of Gore (who was, of course, widely scalded by the press for being so nasty and negative). “He’s claimed to have invented the Internet. He’s claimed to be the object of the book, Love Story. He’s claimed to have discovered the Love Canal…But there is one thing that he did invent. He invented Willie Horton in the 1988 campaign. He cannot be trusted.”

In his comments about Gore and Willie Horton, Nicholson was reciting classic RNC spin. (The party had recited this nonsense for years.) But did Gore “invent Willie Horton” in 1988? During the campaign, Gore never mentioned Horton by name. He never referred to Horton’s crimes. What did Gore do? At one Democratic debate in New York, he criticized Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis for the (virtually indefensible) prison furlough program in which several convicts serving life sentences committed murders while on weekend release. Horton, of course, wasn’t one of those men. In this one brief critique at this one debate, Gore didn’t mention any prisoner by name. He didn’t mention anyone’s race. He never ran an ad on the subject, and never used any visuals at all. He obviously didn’t “invent Willie Horton.” Later, Gore said he had never even heard of Horton at the time of the primary race.

Did Candidate Gore “invent Willie Horton?” This nasty claim—recited again and again by Nicholson—was impossible to explain or defend. Simply put, it was a scummy, vile lie. And it was exactly the sort of “embellishment” and “embroidery” the deeply moral corps claimed to hate—when the corps was able to pretend that such conduct was coming from Gore, of course. But Timothy Noah’s trembling cohort never said a word about Nicholson’s conduct. Indeed, in a remarkable frenzy in December 1999, most major papers repeated this canard—often couching their bogus charge in the careful way otherwise called “Clintonesque.” (They wanted to slime Gore with this ludicrous charge, while making statements which could be defended as technically accurate. Dissembling reporters—who simply hate this conduct in targeted pols—are exceptionally advanced at this skill.) In short, your press corps was far too cowardly, and far too well scripted, ever to criticize the RNC’s Nicholson for his endless dissembling and his rancid attacks. Do you think you actually have a “press corps?” You didn’t then, and you still don’t now. E. R. Shipp explained what you have—a gang of playwrights, typing dim-witted scripts. Noah—questioning us and questioning Parry, and giving a pass to the org which misled him—shows we still have a way to go before we get a real press corps back.