Daily Howler logo
DROIT DE SEIGNEUR! Will Colbert King do and say anything? This past weekend, we weren’t quite sure: // link // print // previous // next //

Four years later, it’s Bush in a landslide: This is a bit off our normal track, but we thought we’d raise a point of puzzlement about last week’s exit poll. This raises a general question: How accurate are such polls?

Last week’s national exit polling involved 17,836 respondents—a relatively large sample. For CNN’s presentation of the (detailed) results, just click here.

In the exit polling, respondents were asked a series of questions. At one point, they were asked who they voted for in 2004. So you’ll recall, that election ended with Bush defeating Kerry by 2.4 points:

2004 election
Bush: 50.7 percent
Kerry: 48.3 percent
Others: 1 percent

Bush beat Kerry by 2.4 points. That’s why we were puzzled by one part of last week’s exit polling. Thirteen percent of respondents said they didn’t vote in 2004. Of the respondents who said they did vote in 2004, this is how things broke down:

2008 exit polling/Who did you vote for in 2004?
Bush: 46 percent
Kerry: 37 percent
Others: 4 percent

You can see this result on page 3 of CNN’s presentation.

It’s hard to believe that those data are accurate. Did four percent of last week’s voters really vote for someone other than Bush or Kerry in 2004? And what would explain that nine-point gap between Bush and Kerry voters? In theory, Democrats were enthusiastic about last week’s election, Republicans somewhat less so. Can it really be that 46 percent of last week’s voters voted for Bush in 2004—versus only 37 percent who voted for Kerry?

All sampling is subject to error, of course. But journalists often treat exit poll data as they were handed to Moses by God. Is there some explanation for those particular data? And by the way: If those numbers are wrong to that extent, do you see why people should proceed with a bit of caution with the exit poll’s other numbers?

Special report: Rich and a King!

PART 4—DROIT DE SEIGNEUR: We saw a lot of striking work from major pundits last weekend. Frank Rich’s column was typically wild, as we’ve already discussed. Meanwhile, in the Post and the Times, Kathleen Parker and Maureen Dowd wrote ostentatiously well-intentioned pieces about their views of race—columns which seemed to emerge from the early- or mid-1960s. It was hard to ignore some of the formulaic constructions. For example, each column ended on the same note. People! These scribes have black friends!

PARKER (11/8/08): The day after the election, an African American woman and I were marveling about events and trying to put our finger on what had changed.

That thing. The little speck of difference that kept us imperceptibly apart had been dissolved in a lovely instant of national consensus that race no longer matters.

I wish my Dot had lived to see it. [end of column]

DOWD (11/9/08): [I]s it time now for whites to stop polling blacks on their feelings?

I’ll have to call my friend Gwen Ifill tomorrow and ask her how she feels about that. [end of column]

Speaking of formula, Dowd still can’t discuss any topic without throwing Bill Clinton into the mix. While we’re at it, let’s pity her mailman:

DOWD: I heard my cute black mailman talking in an excited voice outside my house Friday, so I decided I should go ask him how he was feeling about everything, the absolute amazement of the first black president. If you don’t count what Toni Morrison said about Bill Clinton, that is.

But should we count it? Was Barack Obama the first or the second black president, or alternatively, the first half-white, half-black president?

I eagerly swung my front door open and joined the mailman’s conversation.

“Are you talking about the election?” I said brightly. “How do you feel?”

He shot me a look of bemused disdain as he walked away.

Traditionally, mailmen have avoided broken stairs and snarling dogs. One “cute mailman” faces an additional task; he must avoid Maureen Dowd.

All that said, we may have been most struck last weekend by Colbert King’s piece in the Post.

Who should Obama thank for last week’s win? That was the subject of King’s piece, which was headlined, “A Few Obama Thank-Yous.” First, King noted Virginia governor Tim Kaine, one of Obama’s earliest supporters. He then made a surprising nomination:

KING (11/8/08): Bill and Hillary Clinton. Obama could not have asked more of the Clintons. Despite her bitter defeat in the race for the party's presidential nomination, they went all-out for Obama [in the general election], urging disappointed supporters to get behind the Democratic ticket. The Clintons should be thanked for that. But there's another reason to thank them.

Obama wouldn't be set to become the nation's 44th president were it not for the toughening-up he got from the Clintons in the primaries. Everything was thrown at Obama: his inexperience and questionable associations, his so-called oratorical skills vs. a lack of substance, his supposed unreadiness to become commander in chief—charges that were also used by John McCain in the general election race.

By the time Obama locked horns with the GOP attack machine, he was battle-tested. For that, he owes the Clintons a special thank-you.

Technically, nothing in that passage contradicts anything King has said in the past. But we lost a lot of respect for King this year—and this column helped remind us why.

(Before this, we’d admired King for his sharply-reported, caring pieces about local Washington problems.)

Last weekend, without a hint of irony, King thanked the Clintons for their past conduct, including their conduct during the primaries. It might be worth recalling the things the gentleman wrote in real time.

King’s coverage of Candidates Clinton and Obama began slowly in 2007—but his preference was rather obvious. In late December, he penned a year-end review of his work in the Post. For some reason, he started with his thoughts about Hillary Clinton, whom he now praises so much:

KING (12/29/07): She first appeared in an April 21 column (“From Clinton, Hip-Hop Hypocrisy”) written on the heels of a column about Don Imus’ description of the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." Clinton branded Imus's remarks as "small-minded bigotry and coarse sexism." A month earlier, however, she and husband Bill had attended a Florida fundraiser thrown in her honor by the well-heeled hip-hop producer Timbaland, author of misogynistic and denigrating lyrics that would probably make Imus blush.

My column urged Clinton to give back the $800,000 that was raised for her presidential campaign by the man who penned the lyrics: "most of u rap niggas is hoes to me...well put the pistol to ur head and empty the clip, pop nigga." She probably laughed at me all the way to the bank.

Clinton next turned up in a July column, “Things We Don’t Have to Know,” written in reaction to an interview she gave the New York Times in which she out-Huckabeed Mike Huckabee in expounding on her theological views. This is someone who once declared that she doesn't wear her religion on her sleeve. The columns left me wondering: What does Hillary Clinton really believe?

As noted, King devoted little attention to Obama or Clinton in 2007. But when he reviewed the year, the familiar demonology of CDS (Clinton Derangement Syndrome) was on vivid display. Why, Hillary Clinton was laughing at King, all the way to the bank—and there was no good way to know what she really believes. She was a hypocrite when it came to big money—and a hypocrite when it came to religion.

In our view, King’s two columns about Clinton had been rather tortured. Obama discusses religion too—there’s no reason why he shouldn’t—and there was nothing obviously wrong with the interview Clinton had given the Times. But it was Clinton who had been “pandering,” King wrote in July 2007. And by the end of the year, his two critical columns on Clinton were very much on his mind. After that, the deluge would begin.

King praised both Clintons in Saturday’s column. But he trashed them, extremely hard, all through the 2008 primaries. Here’s a taste of his work in real time. This was extremely rough stuff—with very familiar demonology:

KING (1/26/08): Smart money is on Billary settling in the Oval Office with "his" and "hers" desks.

Who would have thought, eight years ago, that the country might get back Billary, two people reeking of self-pity and spoiling for fights with anyone who has the temerity to stand in their way?

As with the Queen in "Alice," it's all about them. Witness their attempts to devalue Obama.

But don't point that out to the Clintons. They are always right and see no reason to apologize or take back anything they have said or done. And, as we have seen, Billary will say and do anything to come out ahead.

Billary Clinton will do and say anything! This formulaic denunciation drove the insider press corps’ war on both Clintons, and then on Candidate Gore, all through the 1990s. And sure enough! In that same January 2008 column, King quoted the work of Stuart Taylor, a 90s-era Clinton-hater. Lovingly, Taylor had thumbed his way back through a decade’s most deranged hits. King was happy to list them:

KING (1/26/08): Item: Hillary's complaint that it's hard to pin down Obama. Look who's talking. For a refresher, read Stuart Taylor's Dec. 11 column in the National Journal, “Honesty: Hillary’s Glass House.” Taylor carefully lays out Hillary's estranged relationship with the truth and her tendency to resort to lies and deceptions when caught in a tight spot. He takes us down memory lane, citing examples of her dishonesty in episodes such as Travelgate, cattle futures, the removal of the Vince Foster documents, Castle Grande, billing records and her husband's philandering.

There we went again! Taylor had been a leading Village obsessive during the era of Clinton/Gore-trashing. Indeed, here’s where he’d started his tired old piece—the piece King so thoroughly loved:

TAYLOR (12/8/07): Gennifer and Monica. Former lounge singer Gennifer Flowers surfaced in early 1992 with claims—corroborated by tapes of phone calls—that she had had a long affair with then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who had arranged a state job for her. Bill Clinton told the media, falsely, that the woman's "story is untrue.”

Please don’t make us explain how foolish that summary is—though the foolishness is built around words like “corroborated” and “falsely.” But people like Taylor love that tale as much as kittens love their mother’s fifth teat. We offer that image for a reason, which we’ll show you below.

In sad point of fact, an entire political era is built around the way Village Elders—people like King—fell in love with a string of such tales about both Clintons, and then about Gore. And this love affair was still going strong as the Clinton-Obama race started. King was still reciting the tired old phrases his cohort had used against all three vile Dems. And he was tortured by the problems which lay ahead. Two weeks after he told that world that Billary “will do and say anything.” he was worrying about the problems Hillary Clinton would have in signing up a vice president:

KING (2/9/08): Who in his or her right mind would want to serve as [Hillary] Clinton's vice president, knowing that her husband, Bill, would be roaming around the White House, dropping in on Cabinet meetings, greeting foreign guests and chatting up the staff?

True, the job itself has no formal responsibilities beyond ensuring succession and acting as Senate president...But Al Gore, Walter Mondale and Dick Cheney, as Coen notes in his book, redefined the office and elevated its stature.

Could that happen in a Clinton White House? Can a mule whistle?

Fear is, Billary would regard the vice president the same way that Harry Truman said history recognized that office: "about as useful as a cow's fifth teat."

Cute. And there’s that fifth teat.

At any rate, King kept trashing Clinton and Clinton all through the Democratic campaign. That’s his perfect right, of course; we thought he tended to go overboard, but that is a matter of judgment. By way of balance, we thought King wrote one of the most arrogant columns we’ve ever seen in September—this time, a piece which trashed both Palins. This was part of what he wrote, as he explained why a man of his station can’t relate to such under-class losers:

KING (9/27/08): Relate to Sarah and Todd Palin?

She attended five colleges over a six-year span before graduating from the University of Idaho. Todd, a part-time oil production operator and summertime commercial fisherman, doesn't have a college degree.

Darlings! He doesn’t have a degree! In our view, this column only gets worse if you read longer excerpts.

We lost a lot of respect for King this year—a year in which we came to see that he’d always been a reliable Villager when it came to Clinton Derangement. Last weekend, it was almost nauseating to review his earlier work—including the tragic column he wrote in October 2000, explaining why Candidate Gore was the lousiest Democrat the party had ever nominated. (He even explained why Mondale was better! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/18/08. Scroll down.) But you see, insiders like King drank the Kool-Aid, quite deeply, all through the 1990s. People like Taylor fell for Flowers—and players like King were happy to quote them. By the end of the decade, they took turns urging readers to see that Gore was a big phony faker fraud too—that Al Gore was willing to say and do anything, just like his boss, and his boss’ wife, before him. During Campaign 2000, King didn’t pimp this view as hard as Frank Rich did. But he condescended to Gore in October 2000 almost as much as he condescended in that column about the Palins—the column in which he shrieked that the governor’s doesn’t even have a college degree.

Two reactions to King’s current column:

King is entitled to his views, of course. But it was odd to see him praising the Clintons so fulsomely last weekend, after he had trashed them so hard—and so predictably—all through the rest of the year. Are these guys journalists—or are they just pols? Will Colbert King do and say anything?

Beyond that, it was troubling, once again, to read King’s October 2000 column. Why has Bush spent eight years in the White House? Back in the 1990s, people like Taylor and King and Rich fell in love with a certain big-bosomed balladeer—and with a string of related wild stories. And they came to a string of scripted conclusions, principal among them being this: The Clintons and Gore will do and say anything! They said it and said it and said it and said it, eventually sending Bush to the White House. How did they come to believe such things? None of them has had the decency to get off his keister and say.

Two peas in a pod, Rich bluntly said. Worst Democrat ever, a King opined. In this way, Rich and a King sent a Bush to the White House. Last weekend, the gents were thundering grandly about your most recent campaign.