ROOTS (PART 3 OF 4)! The press dodges valid critiques, we told Jim. And we gave him a striking example:
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2004
ROOTS (PART 3): As usual, the Washington press corps was walking tall—standing up to an army of partisans who had been trying to totally politicize journalism and totally politicize press criticism. On the web, rude press critics were trying to bully [reporters] into caving to a particular point of view. But the nations scribes were bravely resisting. They insist the efforts [of their critics] have not swayed them in any significant way, Jim Rutenberg wrote in the New York Times. Later, Rutenberg described their heroism again. Most political reporters interviewed for this article insisted that outside forces did not sway them from being fair, the Times correspondent said.
Yes, Rutenbergs colleagues were bravely resisting crude personal insults from bullying critics. Repeatedly, Rutenberg posed them as defenders of the faith—defenders of fairness itself! But we emitted low chuckles at a question the corps wasnt asked to address. Had web-based critics of the mainstream press corps ever offered any valid critiques? Rutenberg didnt seem to have asked. And his colleagues didnt seem to have answered.
Yep! Rutenbergs colleagues got a chance to complain—but they hadnt been asked if critiques had been valid. And yes, when mainstream scribes insist that efforts of their critics have not swayed them in any significant way, we just shake our heads and chuckle. After all, thats exactly the point that we have long made as weve continued our incomparable critique of this group of committed self-dealers!
Have web press critics made valid critiques? Should reporters have been swayed by these critics? Since Rutenberg quoted us in passing, lets review what he quotes us saying—and lets consider an example we gave him as we explained what we meant.
Midway through his report, Rutenberg says that many web critics engage in crude personal insults—insults described by Howard Fineman as hurtful. As he concludes this part of his report, Rutenberg even quotes us, saying this:
RUTENBERG (10/28/04): Bob Somerby, a comedian who runs a Web site called The Daily Howler that often accuses the news media of being shallow, lazy, bullied by Republicans and unfairly critical of Democrats, said a more genteel approach would not be effective. (He has referred to this reporter on his Web site as dumb and in over his head for being blind or turning a blind eye to Republican spin.)Well discuss our past comments on Rutenberg below. But what did we mean when we told the scribe that we had come to feel the only way you can really deal with the press corps is to beat up on them? Easy! We told him wed come to feel that way because we had learned, through the years, that the mainstream press corps simply refuses to respond to valid critiques. The mainstream press corps, we told Jim, will only respond to power. (Weve expressed this view in these pages before.) And sure enough—what did Rutenbergs colleagues tell him in their interviews? According to Rutenberg, they insisted that the efforts of their critics have not swayed them in any significant way. But thats exactly why we told Jim that its pointless to reason with his colleagues—that the only real way you can deal with the press corps is to beat up on them in some sort of way.
Yes, you might even say that we called the Roots shot! His colleagues refuse to respond to valid critiques, we told him—the very point they indirectly made as they insisted that their critics wont sway them. And we even gave an incomparable example. Why have we come to feel, over the years, that its pointless to correct the press corps? The example we offered over the phone involved that old Love Story nonsense.
Does the press corps respond to valid critiques? Starting in March 1999, Rutenbergs colleagues began to bash Candidate Gore over a meaningless comment from November 1997. And just that quickly, we began to lay out the actual facts about this pointless remark. We wont revisit that issue here; well link below to a fuller discussion. But as we pointed out to Rutenberg, only two reporters were present in 1997 to see and hear what Gore really said. One of them was Times Karen Tumulty, who made an admirable statement in the fall of 2000—a statement about how absurd the press corps conduct had been in this matter! Tumulty had been there to see and hear Gore. And heres the review she offered of her colleagues, the ones who insist that they wont be swayed by the words of their bullying critics:
TUMULTY (9/7/00): I am the reporter to whom Al Gore claimed that Love Story was based on him and Tipper...I was sort of appalled to see the way it played in the media. I mean, it was an offhand comment made during a two-and-a-half hour conversation that was mostly about other things and it was a comment that was, you know, true in most respects. I mean, he was a model, Erich Segal said, for the preppy character in Love Story, and it had been reported in Tennessee newspapers that it was modeled on both of them. But all of that got lost in, again, this kind of snowballI think that there was probably something there worth gigging him about, but the degree to which it became a symbol of the mans integrity I thought was very unfair. And I say that as the person to whom he made the comment and who wrote it.So there was Tumulty, the reporter of record, saying that she was sort of appalled at the very unfair way Gores comment had been played in the media. But then, we had been making these points for eighteen months at the time Tumulty made these remarks, and our valid critiques had produced no discernible change in the way the corps was flogging this nonsense. (And yes, major scribes had been reading THE HOWLER, and yes, these scribes were well aware of the points we had endlessly made.) But our point to Rutenberg went beyond that. To her great credit, Tumulty had first told us in the spring of 1999 that Gores Love Story comment had been quite fleeting, and she always stressed that she was willing to be quoted about the matter, on the record. But when, we asked Rutenberg,, had Time, her employer, ever called this to the publics attention? For twenty straight months, the brave fearless press corps battered Gore about this utterly ridiculous story. During that entire period, Tumulty—one of only two reporters who had actually heard Gores remarks—thought the coverage was something like very unfair. And this means that Time had a big, top-notch story—a story the magazine chose not to publish! Eventually, in September 2000, Tumulty gave a public assessment of her colleagues very unfair conduct. But she did so in a forum at American University; Time magazine had never seen fit to publish her story in some sort of I was there format. When we spoke with Rutenberg, we offered this an example of the press corps refusal to play the game fair. Should anyone really be surprised when Rutenberg quotes his fearless colleagues insisting that they wont be swayed by web critics? Even when the critic is someone like Tumulty—an experienced, high-ranking, insider scribe—even then, criticism of the great, brilliant press is disappeared. But then, its just as we have told you, for years: The press corps tells you the stories it likes. Lets just say it: Unfortunately, Rutenbergs colleagues are a gang of hacks, as they proved in the Love Story matter, and as they seem to have proved once again this week with their new, laughable comments.
So yes, we told Jim that weve come to see the obvious; weve come to see that its basically pointless to reason with the celebrity press corps. Sadly, this press corps responds to one thing—power—and any effective critique of this gang has to be driven by politics. Sad but true—if you want to affect the press corps work, you cant expect to do so with reasoned critique. Unfortunately, you have to make the corps hear footsteps. Unfortunately, you have to make them fear that theyll be loudly yelled at when they compare Democrat hopefuls to hamsters (or to weasels; or to small caged animals). You have to make them fear theyll be yelled at when they invent silly tales sand repeat them for two solid years. You have to make them fear theyll be yelled at when they publish idiot pieces saying that Kerry has a character problem because he wind-surfs and plays show tunes on the guitar. No, we didnt start this site planning to yell. But over the years, the press corps has made it abundantly clear that other approaches are pointless.
Do we approve of crude personal insults? Actually, no, we do not. We dont think we traffic in such insults, and we note that Rutenberg didnt say otherwise. But we had to laugh when the Times reporter bravely quoted his brave, fearless colleagues. They insist the efforts [of their critics] have not swayed them in any significant way? Yo! Jim! Thats the problem! The efforts of their critics havent swayed them? Thats the problem, Jim! Thats what we said!!
MONDAY: An incomparable Part 4! Who is the Washington press corps?
ABOUT THOSE CRUDE PERSONAL INSULTS: Lets say it again—we enjoyed our conversation with Rutenberg, who seems like a perfectly decent guy (in fact, we have no doubt that that is the case). But did we call him dumb and over his head? In the incomparable piece to which he refers, the cruel word dumb appears three times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/15/04). Each time, we said precisely this:
THE DAILY HOWLER (4/15/04): Can Rutenberg possibly be this dumb?In fact, we were suggesting that he probably isnt. But its hard to know where odd journalism comes from. Read our piece and see if our exasperation was justified this day.
Meanwhile, did we say that Root was over his head? Readers, here is what we actually said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/04): If hes really trying his best, Rutenberg seems to be over his head with this important subject. Readers! Where are standards? Incomparably, we offered a nuanced appraisal, which Root reduced to a crude, brutish insult! But then, that seems to be the drift of his piece on the bullying critics his press corps so bravely resists.