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Daily Howler: Krugman's a hero, Mike is just good. But both of them slid past the press corps
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MISSING AGAIN! Krugman’s a hero, Mike is just good. But both of them slid past the press corps: // link // print // previous // next //

MISSING AGAIN: Last Friday, we suggested a weekend assignment. Al Gore’s Nobel Prize would be a topic of wide discussion, we said. Our question: Would anybody tell the truth about what happened during Campaign 2000?

The excitement is all over now; the discussion has moved on to new topics. But here’s what happened over the weekend as the press corps continued hiding the truth about Campaign 2K:

On Saturday, Bob Herbert wrote a column in the Times in which—omigod!—he actually said that “the national media” behaved like 3-year-olds during Campaign 2000. Before moving quickly ahead, he gave one example—the folderol about Gore’s alleged sighing. But he forgot to say that he himself had trashed Gore for that conduct, quite extensively. Nor did he say why he did it.

On Sunday, Jonathan Chait wrote a ludicrous column in the Los Angeles Times. He never mentioned the mainstream press corps’ trashing of Gore. He focused on conservatives only—and made the utterly ludicrous claim that “it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore” in the period after 9/11. His evidence for that ludicrous claim was cherry-picked. In some ways, it was simply misstated.

And then, omigod! The analysts flipped! On Monday morning, even Paul Krugman’s New York Times column skipped past the mainstream press corps’ conduct. Later, some readers said they couldn’t see why we found this piece disappointing—worse than Herbert’s.

Before we speak to that question, let’s look in on another favorite of all our young analysts, former American Prospect chief Mike Tomasky.

Last month, Mike did a belated review of Gore’s latest book for The New York Review of Books. At the time, we said we found Mike’s piece puzzling. Today, at long last, here’s why:

First, how about some kudos? Midway through his lengthy review, Mike does what liberals rarely do: He gives an unpleasantly frank account of the press corps’ conduct during Campaign 2000. Citizens do need to hear this:
TOMASKY (9/27/07): Most of the press coverage of Gore was either untrue (that he'd lied in a debate about an incident involving then FEMA director James Lee Witt) or childish and infuriating (that he sighed too much), while George Bush got away with the claim that he would govern as a moderate "compassionate conservative." Gore had little of the politician's necessary talent for rebutting the baseless charges against him with a quick witticism or a devastating riposte that put the facts in a convincing perspective and critics in their place.

The sad irony of the 2000 debacle is not only that we've been stuck with George W. Bush, frightful as that is, but also that Gore, even with his limitations, could have been a great president.
Is it true? Could Gore have been a great president? We doubt it: Had voting turned out slightly differently in Florida—had that butterfly ballot not existed, for example—Gore’s “honeymoon” would have lasted ten seconds. Beyond that, the press corps would have hounded him to the gates of hell upon his ascension to office. At this late date, it’s easy to forget how thoroughly the press loathed Gore by the end of Campaign 2000. But their grotesque misconduct would have continued; one can easily imagine what they would have done and said had 9/11 happened while Gore was in office. And Tomasky, to his credit, seems aware of this problem. “Most of the press coverage of Gore was either untrue...or childish and infuriating,” he writes, in the passage we highlight above. Even we wouldn’t put it like that; we have no idea how to quantify “most.” But that is a truly startling claim about the press corps’ gross misconduct. If the truth is anything like that at all (and it is), people need to hear about it. They need to hear about it in more than a passing remark, a remark that is instantly undercut by its surrounding oddities.

Why did we find Mike’s piece so puzzling? Start with what he instantly says—after his rather fleeting remark about the press corps’ vast misconduct. Oh! Our! God! “Gore had little of the politician's necessary talent for rebutting the baseless charges against him,” Mike says, suggesting that some other hopeful would have. More specifically, he suggests that Gore should have offered “a quick witticism or a devastating riposte that put the facts in a convincing perspective and critics in their place.” But that statement comes to us straight from Neverland, suggesting, as it does, that there was some way Gore could have stopped the “untrue press coverage,” those endless “baseless charges.” Readers, when in history did any “politician” ever perform so astounding a feat—display the “necessary talent” to which Mike refers so off-handedly here? In fact, we know of no modern White House hopeful who faced anything like the journalistic war which was thrown at Candidate Gore—the kind of war which Mike describes in that first remarkable, highlighted sentence. Did anyone else ever face such an onslaught? On that very subject, here’s Paul Waldman, posting this week for the on-line Prospect:
WALDMAN (10/17/07): Which brings us back to Al Gore. With the possible exception of Barry Goldwater thirty-six years before, no presidential candidate in the television age has been treated with the kind of naked contempt reporters heaped on Gore during his 2000 run. While they portrayed George W. Bush as an honest and genial fellow who was "comfortable in his own skin" if not the sharpest tool in the shed, Gore was ridiculed as a liar and a phony whose very desire to be president was disqualifying in and of itself.
We’d be astounded if Goldwater’s treatment was equal to Gore’s, but no one else has even come close. By the way: Did Goldwater show “the politician's necessary talent for rebutting the baseless charges against him with a quick witticism or a devastating riposte?” Of course he didn’t—no one could have—and we doubt that he was lied about in the astonishing way Gore was. How ludicrous was that War Against Gore? As he continues, Waldman describes an astounding incident, though he bungles the incomparable way the incident came to light:
WALDMAN: The story of Gore's evisceration by the media has been told before...But just to get the flavor, consider that according to Mickey Kaus, reporters watching a primary debate between Gore and Bradley in an adjacent room actually booed and hissed when Gore spoke. "What I underestimated,” Kaus wrote, "what, indeed, has startled me—is the extent to which reporters aren't simply boosting Bradley for their own sake (or Bradley's). It's also something else: They hate Gore. They really do think he's a liar. And a phony."
In point of fact, it wasn’t Kaus who reported that hissing and jeering (none of our three sources ever really said “booing”); it was us, in a series of posts, starting with a phone call we got from that very press room on that very night. (Links below. The debate took place on October 27, 1999, at Dartmouth.) Unfortunately, Waldman sometimes seems to be one of those Very Serious liberals who would rather jump off the Golden Gate Bridge than acknowledge the shrill and strident, Dirty Blogger who did the work on these matters in real time, when it might have actually mattered, while gentleman of his own fine class stared off into space, keeping quiet. But let’s set such intra-murals aside; in his otherwise excellent post, Waldman describes the 300 reporters in that Dartmouth press room who hissed and jeered at Gore for an hour, during that first Gore-Bradley debate. (He doesn’t mention the disgraceful, utterly bogus punditry they had locked into place by that weekend.) Our question: What kind of “riposte” should Gore have offered in the face of such astounding misconduct? What sort of “quick witticism” would have made these disgraceful miscreants stop their astonishing group misconduct? It’s always possible that the Gore campaign—presumably working through surrogates—could have mitigated the effects of this disgraceful misconduct. But it isn’t clear that anything would have helped—and push-back might have made matters worse.

But so what? Let’s return to Brother Tomasky. After describing astounding journalistic misconduct—most of Gore’s coverage was “false, or childish and infuriating,” he says—he quickly adopts the standard “career liberal” posture, suggesting it was actually all Gore’s fault that this lying persisted! If only he’d offered a quick riposte, the way some other pol might have done! If only he’d thought of a witticism! We have no idea why Mike would present such a thought, but it’s cruel, and heartless, and completely absurd. It also performs a standard maneuver, commonly seen among the few liberals who are willing to describe the press conduct at all: It moves us quickly away from that conduct, and lets us direct our ire at Gore. He should have talked about global warming! No: He should have emphasized Bill Clinton more! And now: He should have offered a witty riposte! However such nonsense may be intended, these constructions all end up serving one master: They move our eyes away from that press corps—away from that jeering and hissing in that press room, away from those endless “baseless charges.” According to Tomasky, most of their coverage was either untrue, or childish and infuriating—and somehow, in the end, it’s still Gore’s fault! To his credit, Mike does briefly say what the press corps did. But then he instantly hurries away. Indeed, he even suggests that Gore should never have become a politician at all, if he couldn’t have stopped them from lying. (“Should he, perhaps, have been a citizen all along?”) Gore could have been a great president, Mike says. But maybe he shouldn’t have run at all, Mike is willing to say—if he couldn’t magically stop a war, a type of war no one else ever faced.

Oh, my God! Those magical solutions! How we do love to invent them!

In this piece, we see one of our very best current career liberal writers, and even he seems to know the rules: By law, you have to blame Gore! Fleetingly, Mike describes the press corps’ misconduct (most writers won’t), but readers of the august Review won’t be asked to ponder it long. He lingers much longer on Gore’s sad failings—Gore, who failed to voice a riposte! Indeed, that basic requirement—You must blame Gore!—even leads to this Standard Press Chatter:
TOMASKY: [Gore] has reemerged in the Bush era as a completely different man from the cautious candidate, surrounded by too many consultants, we saw in the 2000 campaign.

Al Gore could not even bring himself to criticize the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in the science curricula of Kansas schools in 1999 (a moment that has stuck with me). Now, he has cast caution aside and is a truth-teller—on Iraq, on executive power, on the corrosive role of television in politics, and indeed on the need to give science priority over faith in public deliberations (although not specifically, to my knowledge, on Darwin)...
It’s the law—in august circles, you’re required to say it. You’re required to say that Gore is now “a completely different man”—as if you don’t understand the difference between running for national office (1999-2000) and making a film that three million people will see, most of them sharing your outlook (2006-2007). You’re required to say he had “too many consultants”—without saying where their advice was wrong, or how you know that Gore didn’t agree with their views. And omigod! Mike even throws in that “teaching of creationism” piffle (it “has stuck with” him all these years), the piffle Frank Rich can’t dislodge from his brain (which makes it so right for a High New York audience). Jesus Christ! He even brings up Gore and Willie Horton, saying that Gore never mentioned the man. He fails to tell us that an endless string of “professional journalists” said the opposite, lying through their disgraceful teeth as they recited a seven-year-old RNC line: Al Gore introduced Willie Horton to the public! This was one of the three million “baseless charges” that these criminal “journalists” made against Gore, in serial, Standard Group Fashion—after they finished their hissing and jeering. Of course, if Gore had just produced a riposte, it all would have stopped. On a dime.

So yes, we were stunned by Mike’s presentation—but this is the best you’ll ever see at this high level of your upper-end press corps. Mike at least mentions the press corps’ gruesome misconduct, before he hurries ahead to blame Gore. For whatever reason, few career liberal writers ever do. (Wait till you see what Chait says in his book!) And omigod! On Monday, that even included Krugman, who has been such a giant, for so long.

Let’s be clear: Krugman has been a savior over the past eight years; we assume that will continue. In the matter of Gore and Bush, he was fighting the fight in real time, in the fall of 2000, when it most mattered, in repeated Times columns. And today? Out in Los Angeles, out in Little Rock, people somehow know how to state the truth about these remarkable matters (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/17/07). But Krugman is the only person likely to speak such truth in the high, inner circles of the Big Major Press Corps—and this Monday, he pretty much failed to. In a column titled “Gore Derangement Syndrome,” he started out like this:
KRUGMAN (10/15/07):

Gore Derangement Syndrome

On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal's editors couldn't even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore's name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with ''that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore's stance.'' You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change—therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.

What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?
“What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?” We’re not sure, but it also drove the mainstream press corps insane, starting in 1997. And of course, since everything drives these right-wingers insane—last week, a 12-year-old drove them insane; during the nineties, they accused both Clintons of a long string of murders—it’s hardly surprising to see them exhibit the same reaction to Gore. But all through Monday’s column, Krugman cites the “derangement” of right-wingers only; he never mentions the other large group that still displays this sad syndrome. Everything Krugman says in this column is true—but he leaves out the history-changing part of the story, the part of the story career liberal writers always look for a way to omit. He tells dog-bites-man—and omit man-bites-dog. In paragraphs 3 and 4, he says this:
KRUGMAN: What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Partly it's a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.
Yikes! In fact, the “often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore” began in 1997, in part at the New York Times, before Bush had even been re-elected in Texas. And the “hysterical denigration” of Gore as a delusional liar was locked into place in March 1999, before Bush had even announced for the White House. When those war criminals in that Dartmouth press room hissed and jeered at Gore for that hour, Bush was still hanging back in Texas; he would skip the first Republican debate, held the next night, in that very same venue. Omigod! Our analysts freaked! When Krugman said that the “hysterical denigration of Gore” was “largely motivated by the desire” to expunge the stain of the Bush Admin, he almost seemed to do what Chait had explicitly done—he seemed to suggest that this denigration began, or gained full force, only after Bush became president. But at any rate, Krugman does an odd thing in this column—he writes an entire piece about “Gore Derangement Syndrome,” without ever mentioning the famous group which has suffered from this syndrome most, with the most disastrous consequences. It’s very strange to tell this story while leaving out the mainstream press corps. But liberal writers have found ways to do this year after year after year.

Will the public ever get to hear this story? An astonishing thing happened in Campaign 2000, and it went on for twenty months; in Tomasky’s account, the “national press...coarsely caricatured [Gore],” so coarsely that “most of the press coverage of Gore was either untrue... or childish and infuriating.” In the spring of 2006, Ezra Klein said it a slightly different way—then never said it again. (Mainstream orgs like the Time and the AP appointed themselves “Gore’s executioners,” he correctly said.) But over the course of the past eight years, mainstream reporter and career liberal journos have repeatedly found a way to disappear this astonishing story. And that is what we saw again in the days after Gore won that prize.

On Thursday night, Katrina vanden Heuvel kept saying that Gore had “reinvented himself”—and she forgot to mention the way her own journal trashed Candidate Gore as a liar, right through October 2000. On Saturday, Herbert scolded “the national media,” in passing—but forgot to say that he himself had played a leading role in the sole episode he mentioned. On Sunday, Chait reinvented history, skipping Campaign 2000 altogether and claiming, quite absurdly, that the trashing of Gore hit its peak after 9/11. (At TPM, Steve Benen linked to Chait and Herbert, saying they’d written “terrific op-eds...that explain the former Vice President's fortunes in a broader context.” How easily we settle!) And on Monday, the mainstream media were MIA again! Krugman wrote an entire column about that history-changing syndrome—without mentioning those who suffered it most. Everything he said was true. The biggest part was left out.

And there too was the Tomasky piece, which briefly describes what actually happened. The press corps engaged in gross misconduct, Mike says—but, as always, he says so quite quickly. He gives more time to a safer theme, a theme whose claim is cruel and absurd: What happened was really Gore’s fault! He should have offered a “devastating riposte!” He should have voiced a “quick witticism!” Yes, these claims are perfectly foolish. But the public has been handed this crap for eight years—has thereby been kept from understanding its press corps—and as we grow to understand the endless reach of our plutocrat press corps, we come to see an unfortunate fact: Almost surely, the public always will be misled—played for fools—about what actually happened.

A LESSON IN TELLING IT SAFELY: As always, Josh Marshall told this story the safe way in a post at TPM:
On Gore

First, before any other yapping and commentary, a big congratulations to Al Gore.

There are several layers of irony and poetic justice wrapped into this honor. The first is that the greatest step for world peace would simply have been for Gore not to have had the presidency stolen from him in November 2000. By every just measure, Gore won the presidency in 2000 only to have George W. Bush steal it from him with the critical assistance of the US Supreme Court. It's worth taking a few moments today to consider where the country and world would be without that original sin of this corrupt presidency.

And yet this is a fitting bookend, with Gore receiving this accolade while the sitting president grows daily an object of greater disapproval, disapprobation and collective shame. And let's not discount another benefit: watching the rump of the American right detail the liberal bias of the Nobel Committee and at this point I guess the entire world. Fox News vs. the world.

And not to forget what this award is about even more than Gore. If half of what we think we know about global warming is true, people will look back fifty years from now on the claims that "War on Terror" was the defining challenge of this century and see it as a very sick, sad joke—which rather sums up the Bush presidency.

But more than thinking only of what might have been, where can we go from here?
We know, we know—you don’t want to hear this. You prefer to think that we’re all on one team—that others are just as transparent as you are. But there you see the safe way to tell the story of Gore. You mention Florida—but nothing before it. You talk about Fox—but you skip past the Post, whose clowning last weekend was just as bad. (The Post was worse than the Washington Times.) You mention Bush and the Court and Fox News and “the right.” But somehow, you leave out the press corps. They hissed and jeered—and then, they lied. But somehow, you don’t want to say that.

But then, Josh has ducked (and scammed) this story for years, going back to the Summer of 02. We have no idea why that is, nor do we even claim there’s a “reason” or intention. But there’s one thing you see in all these accounts: The mainstream press corps keeps getting a pass. Everyone seems to find a way to avoid discussing what actually happened. Paul Waldman has been a sensational addition to the Prospect; his account, linked above, is much more on the mark. Eight years later, we’re finally seeing such work being done—on-line, not in our high press corps. But then, it’s the nature of upper-class cohorts: The higher they get, the more likely they are to take those poor rubes for a ride.

Oh yeah! To see this sad culture in its state of formation, go ahead! One more time! You know what to do: Just click here.

IN SEARCH OF THE HISSING AND JEERING: For our first report on the hissing and jeering, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/3/99.

Soon, a confirmation appeared. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/11/99.

A few weeks later, Jake made it three. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/14/99. (We’d been alerted by a reader in Kansas.)

It’s an amazing story, and it hasn’t been told near enough. Very few citizens have ever heard it—have ever heard about the night when their mainstream press corps, with its famed “liberal bias,” hissed and jeered the Democratic front-runner (them made up complete horse-shit about him). Average people deserve to be told about that—but big career writers just don’t enjoy telling them. Three cheers for Waldman for telling the tale. That story deserves to live on.

NEXT WEEK: Why not! Howler history! We’ll offer a long post about the blatant lying the “press corps” did on the weekend after they jeered.