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Daily Howler: Kevin Drum extends a Treasured Press Tale--and shows you the shape of your discourse
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DRUM MAJOR! Kevin Drum extends a Treasured Press Tale—and shows you the shape of your discourse: // link // print // previous // next //

PART 4B TOMORROW: We have an event tonight for which we have to prepare, and we thought Drum v. Reynolds really had to gain precedence (see below). But we’ll finish our “Roots” series tomorrow, showing you the closing work of the press and asking you: Who are these people?

AMAZING: This morning, Paul Krugman writes of his “faith in America.” At the outset, he calls attention to a situation that is simply astounding, although few major pundits have said so:

KRUGMAN (11/2/04): Over the weekend, people in some [Florida] polling places had to stand in line for four, five, even six hours, often in the sun. Some of them—African-Americans in particular—surely suspected that those lines were so long because officials wanted to make it hard for them to vote.
We don’t know why those lines are so long. But let us state what we’ve seen few Big Pundits state—it is, simply put, an astonishing scandal when people have to stand in line five hours to vote. Is Jeb Bush’s Florida a banana republic? It is astounding—astonishing; intolerable; inexcusable—that the situation Krugman describes exists in this affluent nation. Is there any other part of our culture where people are asked to do this?

DRUM MAJOR: To be honest, we had considered offering comment on an earlier statement. As we’ve noted in the past, we read Kevin Drum every day; we do so because we expect to learn from his site, and we’re rarely disappointed. But we did consider posting a comment on this recent passage:

DRUM (11/1/04): I think this [presidential] election does have a larger meaning: it marks the beginning of the end for movement conservatism. This election and the previous one demonstrate this pretty vividly. In 2000, George Bush eked out a razor-thin victory thanks to the idiosyncrasies of the electoral college, but to do even that well he had to run as the squishiest sort of moderate conservative. Four years later he's dropped the mask and is running as an honest-to-God Reagan conservative...
Did Bush really run in 2000 as “the squishiest sort of moderate conservative?” In fact, he proposed a gigantic tax cut aimed at the top one percent of the top one percent (including the elimination of the estate tax), and he proposed an alteration to Social Security that no one before him had ever proposed. Whatever one thinks of those proposals, they were neither squishy nor moderate—though mainstream pundits adopted the story-line found in this passage from Kevin. But we were even more struck by the claim that Bush “eked out a razor-thin victory” in 2000 “thanks to the electoral college.” Let’s not squabble about the fact that Bush actually eked out a razor-thin defeat in the popular vote. We were struck by the fact that Drum failed to mention press coverage of Campaign 2000. Why was the Bush/Gore margin razor-thin? We take it as obvious that the vote was so close because of the press corps’ two-year War Against Gore. It still amazes us to see “liberal” bloggers acting as if this didn’t happen. Drum gives two reasons why the vote was so close. He doesn’t mention the obvious reason.

But this morning, Drum discusses Campaign 04 in the New York Times, and he repeats (and embellishes) one of the plupotent press corps scripts that helped put Bush in the White House. As he does so, he helps us see the state of play of American political discourse—especially when his post is compared to a corresponding submission from conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds.

What caused the bagel to fall from our mouths as we read the Times this morning? Along with several other bloggers, Drum and Reynolds were asked to name the most important moment of Campaign 04. Here’s how Kevin began:

DRUM (11/2/04): Four years ago, Vice President Al Gore bungled his first presidential debate with George Bush. He sighed theatrically, he rolled his eyes heavenward and periodically crossed the stage to loom over Mr. Bush like an impatient schoolmarm. America was not amused, and four weeks later George Bush was elected president.

Mr. Bush, of all people, should have learned an obvious lesson from this: don't treat John Kerry the way Al Gore treated you. And yet, inexplicably, on Sept. 30 that's exactly what he did. He looked bored. He rolled his head weakly. He sounded defensive and exasperated.

We agree with one part of this analysis. Bush should have learned from that first debate with Gore that “cut-aways”—camera shots of the candidate who isn’t speaking—can turn out to be quite significant. But in fact, Drum’s account of Bush and Gore’s first debate is straight outta Alice in Wonderland—and it’s a recitation of one of the scripts which helped decide the last election. But there’s more! Drum’s account is also patently false—a gross and plainly inaccurate embellishment of a tortured original script. In this passage, a “liberal” blogger takes a script which was used to defeat a Dem hopeful and hyperbolizes further—and falsely.

Did Gore “theatrically” sigh and “roll his eyes heavenward?” Drum is a bit theatrical himself. We recently watched the tape of that first Bush-Gore debate; we marveled again, as we always do, to think that Gore’s sighing/eye-rolling became such a cause celebre. We taped the NBC coverage of the debate; on our tape, Gore’s sighs are infrequent and barely audible, his alleged eye-rolling barely noticeable. We have read that Gore’s reactions to Bush’s (endless inaccurate) statements were more noticeable on other nets which ran “split screens” throughout the debate. But we’d suggest that, if Kevin re-watched that debate, he might be surprised by what he sees. He might be surprised by how rarely he hears any sighs—by how hard he has to strain to hear these sighs at all.

But if Kevin re-watched that first debate, there’s something he clearly wouldn’t see. Clearly, he wouldn’t see Gore “periodically cross the stage to loom over Mr. Bush like an impatient schoolmarm.” He wouldn’t see Gore do this “periodically”—and he wouldn’t see Gore do this at all! In fact, neither candidate left his podium at any point during Debate I, neither Gore nor his rival, Bush. In this blatantly false assertion, Drum seems to be embellishing a single incident from Debate 3 (the “town hall” debate), in which worried pundits became deeply disturbed when Gore walked a bit too close to Bush. But this happened once, not periodically, and it didn’t happen at that first debate at all. In this morning’s paper, Drum, a “liberal,” concocts a new, wild tale about Bungler Gore—and the New York Times happily prints it.

But Drum’s invention of the “schoolmarm chronicles” isn’t his only problem this morning. Is it true that “America was not amused” by Gore’s behavior at that first debate? As we have noted again and again, “America” named Gore the winner of that debate in all five post-debate polls. Indeed, the margins involved weren’t razor-thin; Gore won the five instant polls by an average of just under ten percent (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/28/04). Indeed, Drum might have some things to learn if he watched tape of the networks’ post-debate sessions. As we have explained before, dozens of “Americans” were interviewed by the networks that night, and only a tiny few of these people mentioned Gore’s deeply troubling sighs. In fact, more “Americans” stated their objections to Bush’s rude behavior in the debate—his constant statements that Gore was using “phony numbers” and “fuzzy math” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/31/01 and 6/1/01). Indeed, Bush’s rude attacks troubled these “Americans” even before they found out that his attacks had been factually false, that Gore’s “phony numbers” weren’t phony at all, that they’d been perfectly accurate. Of course, most of “America” never heard this explained, because the press corps strangely avoided saying it, and the pleasing tale of Gore’s sighs-and-lies was soon being bruited for all to hear, with loops of his troubling sighs being played—volume cranked for “theatrical” effect, of course. But not until this very day did anyone take this ginned-up story to the place where the “liberal” Drum takes it. Not till today had anyone said it—that Gore not only “theatrically sighed” and “rolled his eyes heavenward” but “periodically crossed the stage to loom over Mr. Bush like an impatient schoolmarm!” Many had said that Gore sighed and lied, and that “America was not amused.” But only this morning does a “liberal” blogger add to the press corps’ treasured myth. By the way, why did the Times print such utter nonsense? Because we prefer to be polite, we’ll assume they were clueless, as always.

Why do “liberal” bloggers do such things? Why do they do what Drum did on Monday—fail to note the obvious fact that Gore and Bush staged a “razor-thin” race because of the press corps’ slanders of Gore? And why do they do what Drum did today—keep repeating a Treasured Press Tale, perhaps even adding new, false “facts?” About individuals, we simply can’t say, but as a general matter, the answer is clear—liberal career writers sometimes play these games because it greases their careers in the mainstream press. In 1999 and 2000, why did the New Republic say next-to-nothing about the endless trashing of Gore? If you can’t imagine why self-serving boys might have kept the truth to themselves, we’d suggest you haven’t thought long and hard on the nature of human corruption. Motives of individuals? They’re rarely clear. But when we ponder the motives of this gang as a group, it’s not hard to know where to start in limning their puzzling silence.

At any rate, there was Drum in yesterday’s blog, ignoring obvious facts about Campaign 2000. And there he is in this morning’s Times, extending a Treasured Press Corps Tale and making new, blatant false statements about Gore’s troubling conduct. That’s how your “liberal” bloggers serve you. And paired up with Drum is Professor Glenn Reynolds. While Drum invents wild tales about Campaign 2000, Reynolds makes predictable claims about Campaign 04:

REYNOLDS (11/2/04): The biggest story of this campaign was the candid admission in July by Evan Thomas, assistant managing editor of Newsweek, that the press ''wants Kerry to win.'' Though this seemed significant at the time, it was only later—with things like CBS's bogus-document scandal, and the attempted late hit about the alleged missing explosives—that it became clear just how right Mr. Thomas was. Mr. Thomas has since suggested that press bias is probably not as influential as he first thought, but it has been abundantly clear that the press has been in the tank for Kerry/Edwards for several months.
There you see it, the shape of your modern discourse. On the basis of a single remark, Reynolds pounds away on the theme of liberal bias (more on Evan Thomas by the end of the week). And his counterpart, Drum, is pounding away too—extending a bogus press tale about Gore! Again: We don’t know Drum, and we certainly don’t know his motives; we wouldn’t even assume he has any. But we do know the general lay of the land. Regarding press conduct of recent years, obedient career “liberal” writers know they mustn’t correct or challenge the outrageous conduct of their elders. Meanwhile, conservative continue to pound their themes home. Why, oh why, do so many “Americans” misconstrue the shape of recent press conduct? Simple! Because they hear from Reynolds—and from Drum—and because the Times is always ready to print a new tale. Among “liberals,” obedient careerists simply won’t tell you about the press corps’ recent conduct. Let’s hope press corps money is spending real good, because your interests are destroyed as they maintain their endless silence and as they type up their wild tales.