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Caveat lector

THINGS FALL APART (PART 4)! A mailer reminds us: When things fall apart, it’s far more polite not to notice:


IN WHICH WE AGREE WITH A MAILER: Yesterday, we received a critical e-mail with whose views we sympathize. Here’s what the e-mailer said:

E-MAILER: The Howler—I used to enjoy it, because of its general acerbity. But all you do now is to make accusations of base corruption against people for holding opinions with which you disagree. It is unseemly, and a turnoff.
Careful readers will roar in protest. We beat this e-mailer to it, they’ll note, with our incomparable recent remarks, in which we threatened to deep-six THE HOWLER. Why, we came down hard on our own ugly tone! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/10/03.

Yes, as a matter of taste, we agree with the e-mailer’s sentiments. For years, TDH was aggressively polite, and we argued aggressively against “motive journalism.” But long years passed, and we finally learned better, even if our e-mailer did not.

Let’s start with the topic at hand, Russell Baker’s recent post in the New York Review. Now tell us truly: Does the mailer believe, for even a minute, that only Paul Krugman understood the matters he discussed in the past three years? That only Paul Krugman understood these matters, even after Paul Krugman explained them? Sorry—we find that claim so completely absurd that it can only be taken as insult. And after reading such fake, phony postings over the course of the past six years, we’ve lost our ability to chuckle slyly and honor the fakers and phonies who post them. As we’ve said, we wish it had been someone other than Baker, but at some point you must stand with Don Corleone. “I refused to be a fool,” the mumbling don memorably said.

Why do we tend to jump on such nonsense? Perhaps because we’ve seen it so much. Baker offers an absurd explanation of why his colleagues stood quietly by. But we’ve seen such performances down through the years. Book it: No one—no one—is more disingenuous than America’s professional “press corps.” Back in the fall of 1999, for example, we praised Howard Kurtz for his efforts on Reliable Sources—for his fine efforts, on two separate shows, to get fellow scribes to offer their thoughts about the trashing being handed to Gore. And what happened? Both his panels scratched their heads, completely unable to figure out why their colleagues were trashing the hopeful. To state the obvious, those pundits were faking. Your interests were grossly insulted that day, just as in Baker’s absurd piece this week. Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve lost the will to pretend this is all A-OK.

We were raised to be polite, to trust the policeman down at the corner. But, as we’ve tried to tell you all week, the cop at the corner has walked off his post! He served you garbage during Campaign 2000—pure steaming garbage, which decided that race—and he offers you more heaps of garbage today, telling you that his colleagues stood silent because only Krugman understood. Can Baker possibly believe such twaddle? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But last week, his editors served you pure porn—political porn from the pen of McMurtry. This week, they give you ludicrous tales about why their fine colleagues sat silent. Does there ever come a time when Americans refuse to accept such rank clowning? Sorry: For reasons we don’t fully understand, we just can’t read this crap any more without observing what is so obvious. “The best” lack conviction, just as Yeats said. And they spend large chunks of their time trying to obscure that plain fact.

Three times—beginning, middle and end—Baker said they just didn’t know. But as we noted on Tuesday, at one point Baker did suggest the root of the actual problem:

BAKER: The healthy income of top Washington-based political writers may also have an effect. For those with a foot or two in television, the income is very healthy indeed. Six-figure incomes are the rule, and those seen frequently as TV performers may be millionaires. We are talking of people who may well be in that top bracket so generously favored by the Bush tax cuts. Self-interest almost always begets a little prudence.
“Self-interest begets a little prudence,” Baker says. In short: Your celebrity pundits are now millionaires, and they read the papers accordingly. But millionaire status also begets the feckless attitudes of your actual press. It begets the actual attitudes driving their silence, the actual attitudes Margaret Carlson described during Campaign 2000. Why were pundits focused on trivial “fabrications” by Gore? Why were they ignoring larger “fabrications” by Bush—“fabrications” (Carlson’s word) about major policy matters? Carlson didn’t insult your intelligence by saying that only Krugman understood. Instead, she told you something resembling the truth—it was just more fun to trash Gore, she told Imus! “You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get in the weeds and get out your calculator or you look at his record in Texas,” she said. “But it’s really easy, and it’s fun, to disprove Gore.” Why were her colleagues ignoring big policy questions? Carlson explained that part too:
CARLSON (10/10/00): I actually happen to know people who need government and so they would care more about the programs, and less about the things we kind of make fun of…But as sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us. And we can disprove it in a way we can’t disprove these other things.
Almost surely, Carlson was being disingenuous too, failing to mention the corps’ obvious hostility to Clinton and Gore. But at least she didn’t insult your intelligence by saying that only Paul Krugman understood. Carlson was a bit more frank. We just don’t give a shit, the scribe said.

And because they don’t—millionaires can be like that—your “press corps” keeps wandering off from its post. Yes, it’s much more polite—it feels much better—to pretend they still perform in good faith. But at what point does our e-mailer tire of being insulted, right to his face? We do share the e-mailer’s sensibility: We don’t like the gruesome tone that now pervades THE HOWLER, either. But we’ve grown tired of playing the fool. Only Krugman knew, Baker said. To us, that’s so dumb it’s an insult.

Alas! Like powdered elites from the dawn of time, this elite won’t change until forced. Polite corrections will have no effect, as we proved during Campaign 2000. So in closing, let’s repeat an assignment. Maybe you’ll accept the way these lords and ladies mock your own interests. If so, read Ivins and Dubose’s chapter 4; see if you can feel repulsed at the way your high pundits sell off Sherry Durst. They could spend their time on stuff like that—on the way high elites, like Eugene Scalia, sell the interests of people like Durst. But as sport, it’s much more fun not to do so. By the way: Are you prepared to be told, in three years time, that only Molly Ivins understood?

CHRIS MATTHEWS IS FULL OF INTENSITY: “The best lack all conviction,” Yeats groused, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” With those gloomy musings in mind, we turn our gaze to the New York Observer, where a mercifully unnamed editorial writer praises Chris Matthews, “Cable’s Brilliant Bulldog.” What happens when “the best” walk away from their post? This sort of thing starts to happen:

THE NEW YORK OBSERVER: From being parodied on Saturday Night Live for his loud, staccato delivery, Mr. Matthews is now being taken seriously as a reliable journalist. The September viewership of his weekday 7 p.m. show on MSNBC, Hardball, jumped 35 percent over last year. In New York, his Sunday-morning NBC program, The Chris Matthews Show, has beaten CBS’s Face the Nation and ABC’s This Week with Mr. Stephanopoulos. His book, American, is a New York Times best-seller…

Since he knows the Beltway language, Mr. Matthews has no deference for the established political and media classes; he brings airy ideologues down to earth and suffers no fools. Viewers are given the passion of politics and provided with real information. As the country heads into the dizzying Presidential election season, it’s good news that Chris Matthews is on the air.

Incredible—simply incredible. In fact, no one made a bigger joke of your last election than Matthews did, with his loud, incessant dissembling. We know it’s more polite not to notice, but Matthews sells your interests for sport. For a taste of his work during Campaign 2000, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/02. (Scroll down to “How to spin the Buddhist temple.”) Warning: This is only a tiny taste of the way Matthews trashed your election.

By the way, why didn’t you ever hear about this from the corps’ lords and ladies? We suggest you write Baker—and his fake, phony editors—and ask them why they kept so quiet. Or perhaps we can guess at the answer they’ll give: Even after THE HOWLER explained it, none of our crowd understood.

IMMINENT BULLROAR: In our view, there would be no dishonor in saying this: We sincerely believed that Saddam Husein posed a serious threat to America. After all, that’s what President Bush kept saying. Here’s one part of his seminal speech on October 7, 2002:

BUSH: Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.
On any given day, Iraq could give its WMDs to terrorists. In so doing, Iraq could “attack America”—on any given day. This portrait was drawn for months on end. Yes, it meant that Iraq posed a threat. Quite explicitly, the threat was immediate.

In the State of the Union—almost four months later—Bush said there was no “imminent threat.” Scripted flunkies now spin the point hard. But plainly, Bush had described an immediate threat. He ought to stop all the cutting and pasting and say this: We believed in the threat.

Of course, lords and ladies won’t get in this mess. They really don’t know what Bush said.