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Daily Howler: Our analysts wailed when their favorite professor novelized Bush's vile conduct
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KRUGMAN SNAPS! Our analysts wailed when their favorite professor novelized Bush’s vile conduct: // link // print // previous // next //

KRUGMAN SNAPS: The analysts came to us, tears in their eyes. Now they’ve even got Krugman, they said. We thought they were kidding, but no—it was true. The perspicacious professor had snapped into line, typing the liberal world’s latest novel! It concerns the way the bully-in-chief came down on poor Jim Webb at a recent White House reception:
KRUGMAN (11/4/06): ''How's your boy?'' asked Mr. Bush.

''I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,'' replied Mr. Webb, whose son, a Marine lance corporal, is risking his life in Mr. Bush's war of choice.

''That's not what I asked you,'' the president snapped. ''How's your boy?''

''That's between me and my boy, Mr. President,'' said Mr. Webb.
“Good for him,” Krugman continues. “We need people in Washington who are willing to stand up to the bully in chief.”We instructed the analysts to dry their eyes. But we were saddened to see the professor typing this new preferred novel.

Why were we saddened? Readers, get smart! There is no videotape of this incident; like the rest of us, the professor has no way of knowing if these specific words were said. The “transcript” comes from the Washington Post’s Michael Shear, who didn’t make the slightest attempt to say how he got a word-for-word treatment of what these two great men had said. Earlier, The Hill’s Heil had offered a briefer account of the conversation, including the word-for-word statement by Bush which had most inflamed good liberals. “I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Heil quoted the president “retorting”—attributing her troubling account to “a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.”

What did Bush say to Webb? The truth is, we don’t really know. And what was his tone of voice—did he “snap?” Sorry, we don’t know that either.

No, we don’t really know what Bush said to Webb. And we don’t know his tone of voice when he said it. But so what! As we first noted years ago, “novelization of news” has long been the specialty of the cohort we still call a “press corps.” It’s the way they prefer to transform the real news. Here’s how the practice works:

First, they form a Standard Group Judgment about some politician’s character. Then, they come up with a pleasing Group Story—a story which helps persuade the world that their judgment is wonderfully accurate. In 1999 and 2000, this was endlessly done to Candidate Gore—and it sent Candidate Bush to the White House. But the “press corps” has finally come to see that Bush has been a cosmic failure. So they’ve started peddling pleasing novels which display his failed character too.

Today, they’ve even got the professor! No wonder our analysts cried!

Let’s offer a slightly larger perspective. The “press corps” is now writing novels which cut against Bush because they’ve finally agreed to disown him. For years, though, their silly tales have cut against Dems—and because they’re largely an upper-class institution, that’s the way their tales will tend to cut in the future. In our view, liberals and progressives would do better to reject this silly version of “news” altogether. The press corps does this sort of thing to Republicans when they manage to ruin the world. But in the long run, they will do this to Dems for no earthly reason. In our view, liberals and progressives would be much wiser to reject this whole practice. Flat, cold.

We know, we know; you love the story, and you love telling it! But yes, we were a bit disappointed to see brilliant Krugman reciting this tale. Despite that, though, we bravely soldiered, just like poor, abused Jim Webb. We instructed our analysts to dry their eyes, offering them a valiant speech about The Krug’s (undeniable) greatness.

We’d like to give you our exact words. But we delivered the speech several hours ago, and now, we can’t quite recall.

WHEN COULTER SNAPPED: As everyone knows, replacements for the simple word “said” help reporters novelize stories. When we read Krug’s column this morning, we incomparably thought back four years, to the time when Ann Coulter “snapped.”

It happened in Slander, her inventive best-seller. Coulter was troubled by the way the press beats up on Phyllis Schlafly:

COULTER (page 40): [According to the mainstream media], Phyllis Schlafly never comes up with a witty or tart reply. She “fumes” (Newsweek) or “opens her mouth” (New York Times) or “snaps” (Newsweek).
We were shocked, as you probably are (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02). Had Gotham’s Times really dared to say that Phyllis Schlafy “opens her mouth?” It’s no wonder they have such a vile reputation! But Coulter was noting an obvious point; the words a writer subs for “said” help her novelize her tale. When we say that someone “fumes,” for example, we’re most often putting them down.

Meanwhile, how badly had Newsweek mistreated poor Schlafly? Coulter had journeyed 23 years to find the offending use of “snaps.” Decades later, it haunted her dreams. Here’s what the vile mag had said:
NEWSWEEK (4/30/79): The changes [in state divorce codes] can exacerbate the plight of older women. “We now have a whole new class of impoverished women not equipped to go into the work force,” snaps Schlafly. Chicago lawyer Joseph DuCanto, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, agrees. “It’s an illusion,” DuCanto contends. “A court says, ‘Get out there, lady, and hustle.’ You go to Marshall Field’s and talk to women clerks. One of two is divorced, middle class and has to get and work, and that’s the only work they can do.”
In its rush to ridicule Schlafly, Newsweek instantly quoted a major lawyer who agreed with Schlafly’s judgment. But Coulter had an ear for insults—and traveled two decades to find one.

Special report: Let’s talk Tough!

ENJOY EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Paul Tough’s report gets down to brass tacks. Enjoy each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Paul Tough’s soft piece in Sunday’s Times is extremely important. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/28/06.

PART 2: Long before they set foot in school, low-income kids face a struggle. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/06.

PART 3: We could “decide to” succeed, Tough says. We don’t know why he says that. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/1/06.
Today, before we reach Part 4, we offer a Tough-minded interlude:

INTERLUDE—DOESN’T HAVE TO MAKE SENSE: When journalists type their favorite stories, the contents don’t really have to make sense. Example: Today’s front-page report in the Washington Post about the Gates Foundation’s work with low-income schools. “Overhauling schools is all the rage among the entrepreneurial nouveau mega-rich,” says Jacqueline Salmon, naming a list of big-bucks do-gooders. “But the Gates Foundation is lavishing unprecedented sums of money on the effort.”

Soon, Salmon is discussing D.C.’s Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools, to whom the Gates group has made a large grant. But uh-oh! In the following passage, Salmon paints a discouraging picture of the schools—or at least, you’d think that she does:
SALMON (12/4/06): With her life experience and vision, Salcido has proven adept at attracting students. Her flagship campus moved three times in eight years to accommodate growth, settling on Capitol Hill; a second campus with a combined middle school and high school opened east of the Anacostia River last fall. Enrollment is now more than 1,100.

However, test scores have been just slightly better than the mediocre citywide average; the latest test data show one-quarter of Chavez students were proficient in math and one-third in reading. Just as worrisome, many students leave the school after their freshman year.
Yes, that’s an extremely fleeting attempt to discuss the Chavez schools’ test scores. But let’s be clear; the DC schools don’t have “mediocre” test scores—their scores are among the worst in the nation. You’d think it would be a worrisome sign if the Chavez schools—in operation eight years—are only slightly better.

You might think that. But then you’d read this upbeat account of a Gates honcho’s visit to these schools. Salmon doesn’t seem to see the (apparent) contradiction:
SALMON: After prowling around the Capitol Hill campus, [Gates honcho Andrew] Smiles liked much of what he saw. Girls in bracelet-size hoop earrings and boys in baggy jeans walked past hand-lettered posters listing the grade-point averages of top students. Like the tail of a kite, sheets of paper lined a hall with the names of graduating seniors and the colleges to which they had been accepted. Bates, Penn State, Howard, the University of Maryland—every Chavez graduate has been accepted to college, according to the school.
Do you understand that? Frankly, we don’t. Test scores at the schools are weak—but everyone’s headed off to college! You’d think the Post would want to clarify that. But there’s no sign that Salmon even saw the apparent contradiction.

But then, it’s been true for forty years; such reports rarely make a serious effort to analyze the work of low-income schools. To our ear, the purpose often seems quite different; to our ear, these reports often seem an attempt to show that upper-class types at the Post really care about low-income schooling. The reports don’t make a whole lot of sense—but they have cheerful photos, and they’re on the front page. Everyone can see what that means about where the paper’s heart is.

The “mega-rich” are giving the money—and the Post is there to give them publicity. To see how silly the results can get, just click here to recall what Dean Broder said about the work of the Gates Foundation. Meanwhile, to see the Post heap praise on a school with the second lowest reading score in Virginia, you know what to do—just click here. On this hopeful Monday morning, it might be a worthwhile reminder.

THE RICH, COMING INTO OUR LIVES: Does the Gates Foundation have the first clue? On general principles, we’ll sign up as doubters. And at one point, Salmon writes this. Yuck! This sounds bad too:
SALMON: The foundation, through research it has commissioned, has found that Gates-funded schools have strong attendance and more rigorous English and reading assignments. But the research also showed that test scores have improved only slightly, and math performance has been stagnant or lower compared with other schools.
Yuck! By the way, if math performance “has been stagnant or lower” than other schools, in what way have test scores improved, if “only slightly?” We aren’t entirely clear on that, but never mind! When the Gates folk show up in our lives, it doesn’t have to make perfect sense! Alas! We thought of immortal Hemingway, breaking hearts in A Moveable Feast:
HEMINGWAY (page 207): During our last year in the mountains new people came deep into our lives and nothing was ever the same again. The winter of the avalanches was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to the next winter, a nightmare winter disguised as the greatest fun of all, and the murderous summer that was to follow. It was that year that the rich showed up.
Sure, Hemingway is blaming “the rich” for things that he himself later did. But we’ll have to admit it—we though of this passage when Salmon discussed the way the “nouveau mega-rich” have shown up in our lives. Do these do-gooders have the first clue? We’ll sign as major doubters.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: No, we insist, you have to recall the silly thing Dean Broder said; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/06. For forty years, nonsense like this has been typed when Big Scribes visit low-income schools.