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Daily Howler: Frank Rich was quite high-minded this week. Guess what he wrote in the past
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GUESS WHO SHOULDN’T GET DINNER! Frank Rich was quite high-minded this week. Guess what he wrote in the past: // link // print // previous // next //

What many people think: In this morning’s column, Paul Krugman captures a bit of the (widespread) phenomenon we have been talking about:

KRUGMAN (11/3/08): [T]he Republican base already seems to be gearing up to regard defeat not as a verdict on conservative policies, but as the result of an evil conspiracy. A recent Democracy Corps poll found that Republicans, by a margin of more than two to one, believe that Mr. McCain is losing “because the mainstream media is biased” rather than “because Americans are tired of George Bush.”

And Mr. McCain has laid the groundwork for feverish claims that the election was stolen, declaring that the community activist group Acorn—which, as points out, has never “been found guilty of, or even charged with” causing fraudulent votes to be cast—“is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

Have the mainstream media been biased against McCain in this election? Does that explain his (apparent) troubles? Except in truly remarkable years, such matters are hard to measure. But Republican voters have heard unchallenged tales of media bias for a very long time now. In part for that reason, they see the world the way Krugman describes it—even after a long era in which Major Dems were repeatedly trashed by the mainstream press, with Major Reps were turned into icons. For example, how many of those Republican voters understand the basic fact of McCain’s adult life—that he was relentlessly sanctified by the mainstream press for the past sixteen years? (Along with mid-90s darling Colin Powell and post-9/11 hero Rudy Giuliani.) How many have ever heard a rational account of the coverage of plain-spoken Bush versus big liar Gore? How many have ever been told, by any liberal, that the pseudo-scandals of the Clinton era were, in large part, total bunk?

Very few have heard such things—and that’s a truly remarkable fact. And it isn’t just Republican voters who suffer from this peculiar ignorance; very few Democratic voters have heard their recent history either. As Krugman notes, Republican voters are endlessly fed conspiracy theories—even when, as in the Acorn case, the claims are rather hard to sustain. But for the most part, liberal elites have kept their mouths shut about basic parts of this era.

On Saturday, we responded to Kevin Drum’s second post on this topic. (We’re glad that Kevin continued the discussion.) You may have missed our weekend post, and so we summarize it here. With apologies (to Kevin) for a bit of snark, here’s a summary of what Kevin said, focusing on the part of this story which involves Campaign 2000:

  1. Everybody now agrees that the press savaged Gore in Campaign 2000. (“I think Bob has convinced everybody of that.”) Presumably, this means that Campaign 2000 was decided by mainstream press misconduct.
  2. The liberal world failed to act at the time. (“It's certainly true that liberals should have complained more about media treatment of Gore back when it happened.”)
  3. But alas! It’s too late to discuss such matters now! (“Occasional passing references are fine, but anything more and audiences today will just tune out.”)
  4. The person who judged this correctly should defer to the judgment of those who were wrong.

(Please note: Kevin wasn’t part of the media world in 1999 and 2000, when this press war transpired.)

In Kevin’s presentation, we think we may have spied a minor case of the malady known as Creeping Scott Ritterism. You know the basic ethos: The Serious People—the ones who were wrong—must always prevail over those who were right. The ones who were right are supposed to calm down. They should defer to more Serious judgment.

If Obama wins, how will he be covered? We don’t have the slightest idea. But you can be fairly sure of one thing: The other party will scream and yell about favoritism, real and imagined. And our side will carefully check by-lines before we decide to complain. If Gene Robinson air-brushes Sarah Palin, we’ll know it would be madness to notice. Rush and Sean will be fair game. But Robinson? Sorry. Too big.

Sorry, but here’s the basic shape of our world: The conservative side yells at the mainstream press (“works the refs”). The liberal side begs them for jobs, and for social recognition. Your interests get sold away in the process. That’s why none of your “nominal allies” complained when they pimped Saint McCain all those years—or when they demonized Gore

The other side never stops yelling. On your side, it’s always the wrong time to speak. This helps explain what voters believe—the ones described in Krugman’s column. It’s bad for democracy that they’re so uninformed. It’s bad for progressive interests.

For a longer-winded response to Kevin’s post, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/08. By the way: Kevin is very bright; very sane; very much worth reading.

GUESS WHO SHOULDN’T GET DINNER: Once again, we’re not real sure what election Frank Rich has been watching. In yesterday’s column, he said it again: “Our political and news media establishments” have been “fixated for months on tracking down every unreconstructed bigot in blue-collar America” as part of their coverage of Campaign 08. For our part, we wish the press corps had done more reporting about the racial views and feelings of the large percentage of voters who told exit pollsters, all through the Dem primaries, that race played a role in their voting. The great surprise of the primary season lay in the large number of voters—sorry, “unreconstructed bigots”—who were willing to say this to strangers, in violation of all we’ve been told about the reluctance to talk about race. The fact that voters would make such statement gave us a chance to learn more. We think it’s too bad that more questions weren’t asked. Rich seems offended by the thought that questions were asked at all.

But then, Rich is famous for dreaming up tales about the nation’s events. In yesterday’s column, he invented a dream about the way the press corps covered this long campaign. He quoted no one (except Karl Rove!) in support of his sometimes puzzling claims. Who covered the race in the manner described? Rich forgot to tell us.

How was this campaign covered? According to Rich, fatuous pundits saw Candidate Obama as a variant of Sidney Poitier’s character in the famous 1967 film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? According to Rich, the “news media establishment” “consistently underestimated Obama’s candidacy” because they perceived him that way. “It’s why so many got this election wrong so often,” the columnist claimed. But uh-oh! When Rich described the media’s conduct, he named no names and cited no quotes—and he sometimes seemed to be writing from Neptune. This is the way the world can look when scribes are allowed to write novels:

RICH (11/2/08): The list of mistaken prognostications that grew from these flawed premises is long. As primary season began, we were repeatedly told that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the most battle-tested and disciplined, with an invincible organization and an unbeatable donors’ network. Poor Obama had to settle for the ineffectual passion of the starry-eyed, Internet-fixated college kids who failed to elect Howard Dean in 2004. When Clinton lost in Iowa, no matter; Obama could never breach the “firewalls” that would wrap up her nomination by Super Tuesday. Neither the Clinton campaign nor the many who bought its spin noticed the take-no-prisoners political insurgency that Obama had built throughout the caucus states and that serves him to this day.

We don’t know what campaign Rich watched. Were we told, “as primary seasons began,” that Clinton’s organization was “invincible”—that her donors’ network was “unbeatable?” Presumably, somebody said such things—possibly various people. But as we showed you months ago, we were also told, by panels of pundits, that Obama would catch Clinton in the polls by Memorial Day 2007 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/08); presumably, these major pundits hadn’t bought the “invincible/unbeatable” narrative. Meanwhile, Rich’s claim about what happened post-Iowa is just pure/perfect fantasy. Five days post-Iowa, New Hampshire voted. That very morning, the AP’s Beth Fouhy was writing this about that “firewall” thing:

FOUHY (1/8/08): For months, the Clinton team viewed New Hampshire as a reliable firewall in the event she lost Iowa's leadoff caucuses. That wall began to weaken even before Iowans voted last Thursday, and it appears to be crumbling now.

Duh. Some will recall the press corps being embarrassed by widespread predictions that New Hampshire would also go to Obama. After Clinton lost in Iowa, we can find no one in Rich’s own paper pushing that “Obama will never breach the firewalls” line—nor can we find this “spin” advanced in the Washington Post. Who was actually saying these things? Because your press is allowed to type novels, Rich didn’t bother to say.

In short, Rich invented his latest dream in this pre-election column. This brought a question to mind: What dream did he dream eight years ago, right before that other election?

You guessed it! Eight years ago, Rich dreamed a dream in which Bush and Gore were two fatuous, well-matched peas in a pod, the ridiculous line he started to pimp right after Super Tuesday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/06). It’s hard to be a bigger blowhard. Here’s how the great liberal started:

RICH (11/4/00): It's now official: We have learned far more about George W. Bush and Al Gore than they know about themselves. The press has at last plumbed the shallows of both men...

It’s hard to be more pompous than that—and it’s hard to have worse judgment. Rich had watched these two men for two years—and he saw them as a pair of shallow, look-alike losers. Today, Kevin Drum says we’re all convinced that the press corps savaged Candidate Gore. But Rich never noticed any of that; instead, in this column, he was puzzled by “the staggering ineptitude of Mr. Gore's candidacy.” (Quick note: It can be hard to run a campaign when the press corps spends two years reciting absurd claims about you. We should have complained, Kevin says.) Meanwhile, “Mr. Bush's opponents brand him as stupid, but there is nothing stupid about the don't-worry-be-happy campaign he unveiled at the convention in Philadelphia,” Rich judged. As he closed his pre-election column, this giant of progressive insight explained who “the truly stupid one” was. Note the snark about Dingell-Norwood, a snark he had stolen from Cokie:

RICH (11/4/00): In 2000, the fool is the guy who works 24/7 and lets us see all the sweat.

That would be Al Gore, who is a hyperventilating fount of worst-case scenarios and details we don't want to bone up on (Dingell-Norwood, anyone?). He is the truly stupid one, for he has given George W. the opening to embody the contented America that his own administration helped to create, even as he has failed to weave all his endless policy details into an articulate message that might offer more than populist sloganeering as an alternative to don't-worry-be-happy. The vice president hasn't even been able to make his criticism of his opponent coherent. "I have actually not questioned Governor Bush's experience," he lied to Jim Lehrer in his very first answer in the first debate—even though he had questioned it in the past (and rightly so).

Mr. Bush, by contrast, has never backed away from his consistent critique of Mr. Gore—"He seems guided by polls and focus groups that drain politics of its courage"—and the vice president's inability to give a direct, unequivocal answer to almost any question put to him made the accusation stick. As for the courage of Mr. Bush's politics, it isn't of greatest-generation caliber, but it may well befit his America. It's the courage to say and do nothing that might disturb the country during one of its longest-running naps.

That was the end of the lengthy column. Three days later, Florida voted—having been told that Gore was “the truly stupid one,” and that (Of course! It was High Pundit Law!) Gore had “lied to Jim Lehrer in his very first answer.”

Bush, by contrast, was steadfast. Gore was a hyperventilating fool, for having named a bill he supported. Sam and Cokie had laughed and laughed about those names (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/06). Three days before the nation voted, this big dope went there too.

(Dingell-Norwood was a “patients bill of rights.” In the debate in question, Bush refused to say if he would support it—and he basically lied through his teeth about what he’d done in Texas concerning such issues. Everyone knew what Bush had done—but the press corps was angry about Clinton’s blow jobs. So Rich, like the others, gave you this pap. And yes—that is what occurred.)

No, Gore didn’t “lie to Lehrer” in the exchange Rich cited. But that was the script of the Cokies and Dowds, and Rich also knew how to type. Many liberals are happy this week with the high-minded things this great front-runner says. We thought it might help if we recalled the service he gave in the past.

But then, you’ll continue to be served poorly, until you get a new set of servants. In yesterday’s column, Rich—a blowhard Gotham high-brow—rolled his eyes at that silly old film. But although that film has archaic elements, it’s well worth watching again today, on the verge of Obama’s possible election. If Obama is elected, we will all have endless chances to move racial/post-racial wisdom forward. We could do worse than consider the unusual scenes from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in which Spencer Tracy, a plainly decent character, worries aloud to Katherine Hepburn about his racial fears, concerns, turmoil, misgivings. (Poitier’s movie parents are conflicted too.)

By happenstance, we recently watched that old film, but our reaction differed from Rich. Despite its archaic elements, we were surprised and impressed; we thought we’d rarely seen a film in which a person socially defined as white spoke so frankly about so-called race. Out in America, there are decent “white” people with racial turmoil/error/confusion who may need help coming into the light. Dr. King never mocked any such people; in part for that reason, he was the last century’s greatest achiever. But don’t worry! Rich’s cohort reliably will. From his High Manhattan Perch, those people are unreconstructed bigots. He can’t begin to understand why reporters might want to approach them.

Could it be because they get to vote? Because we all live on the same blocks? Because we’re all fallen, failed? Except for Rich’s press corps, of course, who had “learned far more about Al Gore than Gore knew about himself!”

Jesus—you just can’t get more pompous than that! You see what he served you eight years ago. Still want this guy coming for dinner?