VILLAGE HISTORIAN! When we scanned Sally Bedell Smiths new book, we saw where history comes from: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2007
PLAYING BALL: Where do they find them—on what distant planet? In todays Post, Michael Shear keeps playing ball with Tim Russert. He talks about Giulianis World Series choice; hell root fort the Red Sox, Rudy has said. And then, the spirit seems to grab him. Playing ball, Shear offers this:
SHEAR (10/25/07): At least Giuliani made a choice. Sen. Hillary Clinton was asked during a recent debate what she would do if the Chicago Cubs played the New York Yankees in the World Series. Pressed by NBC's Tim Russert, she would only say that she "would have to alternate" her support, presumably from game to game.How do you get grown men to do that? Oh, we forgot! Such stories start with vainglorious Russert. Then, the younger Raccoons agree to recite them, working their way up in the lodge. Three weeks later, Shear still takes this pointless moment of joking and pretends it was serious. That it mattered.
Pressed by Tim Russert! Good God, the sheer nonsense theyre willing to peddle! But then, just wander over to Media Matters to review the nonsense theyve dealt with this week! Its absolutely stunning to see how moronic the American discourse is. And of course, this has gone on for at least fifteen years, with barely a peep, or word of comment, from the high lords in the mainstream press. The American discourse has been made a sick joke. And only we web-cats can tell.
At Media Matters, they even have this, about one more aspect of Cubs versus Yankees. Background: In the Village, everyone has now agreed to stop pretending that Clinton was lying when she said that she was a youthful fan of the Yankees. This secret agreement was never announced, but everyone is now observing it. Everyone except one dumb-ass Post blogger and—omigod!—the Sun-Times Lynn Sweet!
Someone needs to take Sweet aside. Sweet needs her groups latest scripts.
STUCK ON STIGLITZ: What did Joseph Stiglitz mean when he reviewed Naomi Kleins new book? We thought we caught him rolling his eyes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/23/07). One e-mailer thought different:
E-MAIL: I think you over-reacted to Stiglitz's review of Klein's (magnificent) new book. I didn't get the impression that Stiglitz was rolling his eyes. My take, therefore, leads to a considerably different conclusion than the one you drew—where Stiglitz ends up agreeing with Klein by the end of the review. My take was that he was with her all the way.Was Stiglitz with her all the way? Frankly, we cant tell; we think his opening is a bit odd if thats really the case. (As we noted, from paragraph 3 on, he largely seems to agree with her thesis.) Were only modestly familiar with Stiglitzs views; for what its worth, he first appears in Kleins book (page 163) as one of the last holdouts against the new [and undesirable] orthodoxy. But uh-oh! On page 224, hes back, in Kleins chapter on Russia; as chief economist at the World Bank, hes now recommending the dark side. (In other words, the shock doctrine.) Incomparably, we decided wed break the tie. But the third reference to Stiglitz in the index is wrong. He cant be found on page 334.
Our reader knows more about these matters than we do. Thats part of the reason were annoyed at the lack of reviews for this book, which weve found deeply fascinating. But that gets us ahead of ourselves just a tad. As we continue the weeks book whirl, well revisit The Shock Doctrine tomorrow.
Special report: Book whirl!
PART 3—VILLAGE HISTORIAN: Lets start by assuming whats probably true: Sally Bedell Smith is a very nice person. But shes also an uber-insider, a very high-ranking Village Person. That explains how she ended up on Sundays Meet the Press, clucking and chatting about Hillary Clinton—more specifically, about Clintons marriage.
Smith began her career at Time and Life, then became a biographer of the usual suspects (Pamela Harriman; William Paley; Princess Diana; the Kennedys). Her books are described as well-written—and dishy. Her husband, Stephen G. Smith, is former head of U.S. News. When you get Smith, you probably get a nice person. But you definitely get versions of Village History—history her cohort loves.
Smiths new book is about Bill and Hillary Clinton. And that explains why she was booked on Sundays Meet the Press. You see, the Head Raccoon had called the Ladies Auxiliary; on Sundays program, a gang of four would go to town discussing their favorite subjects. The clucking and nosing about were familiar. Soon, the uber-insider started to sniff about the Clintons collaborative habits:
SMITH: They have deeply collaborative habits that go all the way back to Arkansas. I mean, this is a couple who are, who are—theyre so political that when they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary they sat home. They didnt go out for a romantic dinner. They sat home and they watched the presidential debate on, on television.Theyre so political that... It almost sounded like Ed McMahon was throwing lines to Johnny! But then, it also sounded like a group of biddies couldnt keep their big fat mouths shut! Darlings, did you hear what they did on their anniversary? The Village has never tired of these topics. And it pretty much never will.
Somehow, we dont think that Russert will invite four male Raccoons to chat about Rudys marital history. But at any rate, Smith is an uber-DC insider. She understands the norms of the Village. She knows the Village outlook.
This brings us ahead to her current book—and to the shaping of Plutocrat History.
How trustworthy are the views and findings of uber-insiders like Smith? Were sure that Smith is a very nice person, but we couldnt help starting when we read the excerpt from her book which appears in Vanity Fair. On the whole, it struck us as dull, but reasonably fair; basically, Smith was reworking the types of excitement the Villagers love to receive from the Clintons. But then, we hit the brief passage we look at below—and we thought we got a glimpse of how Village History gets written.
What follows isnt a very big deal—except as a taste of how history works. For us, its been a big week for books. The disinformation in the passage below forms one small part of that Whirl.
In the following passage, Smith is talking, completely inaccurately, about Al Gores conduct in June 1999, when he gave the formal speech announcing his run for the White House. This is Village History at its best—and at its worst, of course:
SMITH: Gore officially announced his candidacy for president on June 16, 1999, at the Smith County Courthouse, in Carthage, Tennessee, his family seat. Bill and Hillary were in Europe on a nine-day trip with their daughter, Chelsea. For Gore, the announcement provided an opportunity to redefine himself and to create some distance from Bill's personal problems. Since the Lewinsky scandal had broken, Gore had expressed his dismay about Bill's conduct to a small circle of advisers but had kept quiet publicly.Smith goes on to flesh this out. Here are the things Gore said Clinton when he gave this kick-off speech. According to Smith, Gore was saying these things in public for the first time, of course:
SMITH: At his announcement, Gore was surrounded by Tipper, his four children, and his mother. He repeatedly stressed the importance of family values and referred to the president only twice. Later that evening, Al and Tipper sat for an interview on ABC's 20/20 with Diane Sawyer. Asked about the Lewinsky affair, Gore said, "I thought it was awful. I thought it was inexcusable. But I made a commitment to serve this country as vice president." He added that "as a father" he felt the president's behavior "was terribly wrong, obviously." Seeking to differentiate his character from Bill's, he said, "It is our own lives we must master if we are to have the moral authority to guide our children." When Bill heard Gore's words, he erupted, "What the fuck is this about?" Moments later, in a call to Tennessee from his Paris hotel room, he praised Gore's announcement speech. "Nice job," said Bill.According to Smith, Gore was saying these things publicly for the first time. (And of course, he was redefining himself. Smith is too nice to say reinventing.) This claim, alas, is just laughably wrong, But its clear where such history comes from.
The real history? Gore did say those things to Sawyer—but he had said them on endless occasions over the prior nine months. Was Gore criticizing Clinton for the first time in public? Many pundits said so that week, trashing Gore on that basis, but the claim was an invention—a bald-faced, absurd lie. In fact, Gore had routinely condemned Clintons conduct in the nine months before his announcement. He had routinely said the same things Smith records him telling Sawyer.
Inexcusable? Awful? Terribly wrong? Like Clinton himself, Gore had said these things endlessly. On September 19, 1998, Ceci Connolly had first reported Gores views in the Washington Post. Acknowledging that President Clinton's behavior in the Monica S. Lewinsky controversy has been indefensible, Vice President Gore said today he nevertheless feels sympathy for a suffering friend and does not want Clinton to resign, she wrote. Four days later, she reported Gores views again. In his public appearances, Gore is unwavering in his support of administration policies, Connolly wrote, on September 23, 1998. At the same time, Gore has said repeatedly that Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky was indefensible. None of this was confusing or hard to follow, and major news orgs kept reporting Gores views—views which jibed with Clintons statements about his own misconduct. For example, on December 14, 1998, with the House impeachment vote drawing near, the Associated Press reported Gores latest statement. Gore said Americans agree that Clinton's actions in the Monica Lewinsky affair were terribly wrong, the AP reported. But he says an overwhelming majority don't want Clinton to be impeached and removed from office.
Gore had repeatedly stated these views. But the lying about it would soon get its start, from a familiar agent. In February 1999, Connolly reported an odd complaint; RNC chairman Jim Nicholson had told reporters that Gore has not shown the courage or character to criticize Clinton, even for his self-admitted behavior...He's the only politician in America who hasn't done that. Nicholsons charge was blatantly false; more simply put, the chairman was lying, as he would do all through this campaign. But so what? In the Post, Connolly again ran through Gores statements about the Lewinsky matter—but she didnt raise any questions about Nicholsons blatant misstatement. But for Gore, the questions about Lewinsky just kept right on coming. In March, he made his first campaign trip to New Hampshire; in response to a reporters question, he stated his views about Clinton again. When he made a terrible personal mistake and it came out that he actually did, I condemned it, and I condemn it again today, Gore said, as quoted by Connolly. It was indefensible, terribly wrong. He apologized for it and the American people made a judgment that they wanted to move on, and I think that judgment still holds.
How many times must the cannonball fly? None of this was confusing or hard to follow. According to Gore, Clintons conduct with Lewinsky had been indefensible, terribly wrong—but it didnt warrant removal from office. According to a long string of polls, American voters had agreed with those judgments, even at the height of the scandal. But no matter how often Gore stated these views, journalists wanted to hear them again—and they often feigned confusion about his deeply perplexing position. Result? When Gore made his kick-off speech in June 1999, the press still rocked to one major rhythm—the seductive samba known as Lewinsky. What did Gore think about Clinton and Monica? Gore was asked on every network; Bob Schieffer asked about nothing else. When Gore was asked by Sawyer, he offered her the same tired old answers, the ones he had now recited for nine months or more.
But now, by June, the press had a new focus; they wanted to prove that Gore was a phony. Result? All over the press, it was said—or implied—that Gore had waited until this weekend to express his views about Clintons behavior. As weve seen, Gore had repeatedly stated these views. But so what? On June 18, the New York Post ran an editorial: AL GORE, LIAR. Heres how their lying began:
NEW YORK POST EDITORIAL (6/18/99): Just seven short months ago, Vice President Albert Gore was all but nominating President Clinton for a place on Mount Rushmore. At the post-impeachment pep rally on the White House lawn last December, Gore declared that impeachment "does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest (emphasis added) presidents."The editorial quoted Gore saying the very same things he had been saying for the past nine months. But the editors pretended that Gore had suddenly decided to say these things—and they called him a liar in the process. (They went on to keen and wail about invented the Internet, the farm chores and Love Story.) And no, it wasnt just the New York Post which was pimping this ludicrous claim about Gore, without the slightest fear of correction. This new claim—Gore has suddenly decided to criticize Clinton—was being widely asserted this week, by pundits and reporters alike. And sure enough! Ceci Connolly found a way to play the game, in the dissembling news reports which Smith has plainly used as the source for this part of her book.
Heres what Connolly wrote on June 16, the morning of Gores speech. In this passage, shes working hard to mislead her readers without saying anything that cant be defended as being technically accurate. Note how similar this passage is to the start of the New York Post editorial, which appeared two days later:
CONNOLLY (6/16/99): Gore begins his 2000 marathon carrying Clinton baggage. Whatever private misgivings he may have had about the president's personal conduct, he soldiered loyally in public. Most famously, on Dec. 19, the day Clinton was impeached, Gore appeared at a South Lawn pep rally to say the vote does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents.Now, Gore is blunt, Connolly wrote—and then, she quoted him saying the very same things she had quoted him saying for the prior nine months. The next day, she persisted in her dissembling. It seems fairly clear that Smith adapted the passage in her book from these baldly dishonest news reports:
CONNOLLY 6/17/99: Gore mentioned Clinton by name only twice in his speech—in reference to the economy and Kosovo.Slick! Nothing in that is technically false. But its absurdly misleading—as was intended. (Gore had never said he was upset before. Thus, Connollys statement is technically accurate—and its grossly misleading.)
If you compare those reports to the passage from Smiths book, you can see that Smith has basically reworked the things that Connolly said. But uh-oh! Connolly was busting her ass in these reports to deceive her readers about Gore. You know Ceci! She had reported Gores comments for the prior nine months; but now, she pretended that Gore hadnt made them. You see, the plutocrat droogs in her crackpot Village wanted to say that Gore was reinventing himself, redefining—lying. So Ceci worked hard to play along. Eight years later, Smith came along—and a bit of Village History was born.
Who knows? Maybe Smith is so well-bred that she doesnt understand the process involved here. Maybe she still doesnt know that Ceci went out and made sh*t up about Gore for two years. At any rate, she gives us a taste, in this brief passage, of the way Village History works. First, they send the Connollys out. Eight years later, the Smiths come along—and the nonsense becomes official.
At any rate, that passage by Smith is just laughably wrong. Gore had expressed his dismay about Bill's conduct to a small circle of advisers but had kept quiet publicly? Gore had spoken publicly again and again—over and over, for the prior nine months! He had to; a Monica-holic Washington press corps couldnt stop asking Gore to speak about their dearest darling. But in June, when Gore made his kick-off speech, the Villagers wanted to trash their man hard. Some simply lied, like the New York Posts eds. Others, like Ceci, were slippery.
But so it went in one small part of what wed call last weekends Book Whirl. The Head Raccoon drug Sally Smith out to cluck and chat about Clintons marriage. The Village never tires of this—or, for that matter, of any part of their history. Much of this history is fake, false, invented. Its pure bull-roar—but its their bull-roar. Village People love it.
TOMORROW—PART 4: A book which deserves your review.
THE VILLAGE HAS RULES: Lets say it again; we have no doubt that Sally Bedell Smith is a very nice person. But if she wants to construct some actual history, she has to stop cutting-and-pasting Ceci. And she might want to dump that Village outlook. What follows is the first Q-and-A from her interview with Vanity Fair. For those who puzzle about the war that blew up between the Village and the Clintons, we thought this Q-and-A captures the conflict that (were told) took hold:
QUESTION: When the Clintons came into office, in 1993, they seemed to think they could do whatever they wanted, in terms of the structure and staffing of the White House, or Hillarys oversight of a task force to overhaul the health-care system, to name just two examples. Where do you think that hubris came from?They seemed to think they could so whatever they wanted. And of course they couldnt.
You can decide where the hubris is there. Imagine the thought—that a president thought he could do what he wanted in terms of staffing the White House!
None of this would matter, of course. If Ceci wouldnt make things up. If Smith would check Cecis work later.
SEELYE TOO: In the New York Times, Katherine Kit Seelye was bull-sh*tting too. This is just plain flat-out lying. It also seems self-contradictory:
SEELYE (6/17/99): While Mr. Gore has said—and repeated tonight in a taped interview on the ABC News program "20/20"—that Mr. Clinton's behavior was inexcusable, he had not said publicly before that he was upset over the time that was squandered. During the impeachment scandal, Mr. Gore stood loyally behind the President and declined to criticize him.Gore declined to criticize him! Ceci was slick—but Kit didnt bother. Other days this week, she was more careful. This may be an editing error.