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Daily Howler: Digby is peeved at Sally Quinn--and we're slightly peeved at Digby
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WHEN DIGBY MET SALLY! Digby is peeved at Sally Quinn—and we’re slightly peeved at Digby: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2006

WHY NOT DO BETTER: Uh-oh! The House ethics committee reported on the Mark Foley matter last week—releasing its work on a Friday afternoon, just like all the slicksters do. And darn it! In Saturday’s Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman had to say this:
WEISMAN (12/9/06): Democrats receive their share of scrutiny in the report. In August 2005, a former page of Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) sent Alexander aide Danielle Savoy e-mails he had received from Foley asking him for a picture and asking what he wanted for his birthday. Savoy passed them on to a friend, who showed them to her boyfriend, Justin Field, who worked for the House Democratic Caucus.

Democratic Caucus communications director Matt Miller saw the e-mails as inappropriate, but rather than taking them to authorities, he shopped them to the press, first to the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times that November, then to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. He also gave the e-mails to the communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a point apparently validating Republican charges that senior Democrats were behind the revelation of Foley's conduct.
We don’t think that’s the end of the world. But in real time, we seem to recall outraged claims that of course such Republican charges were wrong. None of us knew what was actually true—but we insisted that our side must be pure. (To recall a Big Dem’s non-denial denial on a related matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/10/06).

We didn’t know what Dems might have done—but we insisted that they hadn’t done nuthin. But then, it worked much the same way last week. We didn’t really know what Bush and Webb said, but we ran with a version of their (pointless) conversation we liked. Then, Michael Kinsley sneered at Bush’s daughters—and Eleanor Clift told us what “may be the reason” Bush 41 cried at that Florida event. She also told us what’s “fair to say” about Bush 43’s errors. “Fair to say?” But are such statements accurate? Clift, of course, doesn’t know.

We’ve said it before, so we’ll say it again. We don’t think it promotes progressive interests when we ape the mental styles of the pseudo-conservative and mainstream press worlds. They’ll always hand you novelized tales—tales which promote their world-view-of-the-moment. In the long run, progressive interests will be better served if we learn to renounce such pleasing tales and stick to the things that we know.

“NOT THAT THEY HAD GREAT CREDIBILITY ANYWAY:” As Tom Schaller says at Tapped, “this is too funny not to share.” We strongly suggest that you read Schaller’s post, then watch the panel discussion at issue, from Boston’s Beat the Press TV program. And yes, here’s the funniest part—Beat the Press is a PBS show, produced by Boston’s WGBH! The perfect nonsense on display here comes from the most high-minded element of our mainstream press corps!

Tom is right when he says this is funny—but it’s also quite astounding. The pundits on this TV panel don’t have a clue what they’re talking about; they’re all completely wrong on their facts. Beyond that, though, note the way they offer sweeping statements about a large group of people (in this case, about the conduct and motives of liberal bloggers). We were taught, in ninth grade, in a journalism class, that smart people avoid the “glittering generality.” This discussion is being conducted by extremely unsophisticated folk.

All mainstream scribes don’t blunder this cosmically. But the politics of the past fifteen years has been endlessly shaped by discussions this bad. As we’ve said: We can’t see how progressive interests are served when we ape such mental styles. When you watch this panel discussion, you’re watching a deeply unskilled cohort. In the past fifteen years, the dysfunctional mental styles of this cohort have become a major political—and national security—problem. We need to explain this problem to voters, not extend the problem ourselves.

For the record, Emily Rooney hosted this session. When we were in that ninth-grade class, taught by an inspiring young teacher, we never dreamed that the adult world could be in the hands of such perfect incompetents. By the way: “Since being with Greater Boston, Emily has picked up a number of awards, including the prestigious National Press Club's Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism.” Our young analysts, who once had stars in their eyes, read that, then averted their eyes. “It figures,” our young aides glumly said.

WHEN DIGBY MET SALLY: We’d like to agree, semi-agree, and semi-disagree with Digby, who is constantly pretty much right.

First, Digby is right to direct continued attention to this important, November 1998 report by the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn. But Digby seems to criticize Quinn for the report—and Atrios seems to take that to be Digby’s meaning. We think that focus is seriously wrong. Here’s why:

Quinn’s 3600-word report concerned the feelings of insider Washington about the unfolding Clinton impeachment. The impeachment vote was still weeks away, but Quinn interviewed “more than 100” members of “Establishment Washington” for her report, seeking their views on Clinton-Lewinsky. This produced a hugely important document—a report which recorded the attitudes driving our press and political elites at this critical juncture. Quinn went into great detail about Establishment Washington’s sense of “outrage” at Clinton. For that reason, her report is one of the most important pieces of journalism from the Clinton-Gore era.

Anyone who wants explain this puzzling era will want to work from Quinn’s report. For example, why did “Establishment Washington’s” journalistic elite land on Gore like a ton of bricks when he began his own White House campaign, four months later? Quinn’s report provides the raw material for anyone who wants to explain that.

Should Quinn be criticized for this report? On balance, we think she should be applauded. Using her access to “Establishment Washington,” she recorded their blinkered views as few other scribes could have done. On balance, Quinn doesn’t state her own views in this piece—but her work in recording the views of others makes this report an invaluable document. We think it’s one of the most important journalistic works of the decade.

But uh-oh! Digby seems to criticize Quinn for something we think is quite admirable. At several points in her report, Quinn called attention to an important but awkward fact—on balance, the American public didn’t share her cohort’s sense of high outrage against Clinton. Here’s the first such passage. It came early on in her piece:
QUINN (11/2/98): With some exceptions, the Washington Establishment is outraged by the president's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The polls show that a majority of Americans do not share that outrage. Around the nation, people are disgusted but want to move on; in Washington, despite Clinton's gains with the budget and the Mideast peace talks, people want some formal acknowledgment that the president's behavior has been unacceptable. They want this, they say, not just for the sake of the community, but for the sake of the country and the presidency as well.

In addition to the polls and surveys, this disconnect between the Washington Establishment and the rest of the country is evident on TV and radio talk shows and in interviews and conversations with more than 100 Washingtonians for this article. The din about the scandal has subsided in the news as politicians and journalists fan out across the country before tomorrow's elections. But in Washington, interest remains high. The reasons are varied, and they intertwine.
Quinn didn’t have to call attention to this awkward “disconnect”—a disconnect she said you could see on TV and talk radio. The fact that she did so, several times, vastly strengthened her piece. This week, Digby seems to say that Quinn took sides in describing “this disconnect.” Digby: “You will note that the author says quite explicitly that the nation does not share the superior values of their betters.” But Quinn didn’t say who was right in this matter. In our view, Quinn takes some of her cohort’s claims at face value in ways which detract from her report. But this is a massively important bit of history, and it should be remembered as such.
Meanwhile, we have to complain about Digby’s account, in another recent post, of how we got where we are today:
DIGBY (12/7/06): [L]ooking at that amazing picture of the Bush clan in the White house—the former president, the current president, the Governor of one of the largest states—all together in the White House says everything you need to know about what true conservatism is really all about.

We allowed them to impeach the duly elected president who beat the father, for trivial reasons. We allowed the father’s appointees to settle a dubious election result in the son's favor. We have watched them as they created a presidency insulated from popular or congressional oversight in which they have gone so far as to set forth the idea that the president has no obligation to follow the law...

We agree with the things Digby said. But good gravy! How about what Digby left out! That mini-history serves Washington’s press elite in a way that Quinn’s report never did. What’s the actual history of the period in question? Let’s restore what’s lost, missing and strayed:
DIGBY, REVISED AND EXTENDED: We allowed them to impeach the duly elected president who beat the father, for trivial reasons. We allowed their tribunes to invent fake stories about the highly-qualified man should have been his successor. In the aftermath of that propaganda campaign, we allowed the father's appointees to settle a dubious election result in the son's favor. We have watched them as they created a presidency insulated from popular or congressional oversight...
The largest problem with Campaign 2000 didn’t start that November, in Florida. It started twenty months earlier—and it’s important that liberal leaders repeat this history whenever possible. In Campaign 08, the Democratic nominee may get swift-boated—or the Republican nominee may ride a love boat. But voters need to be forewarned about the way such mass spinning campaigns have worked. We continue to be amazed at the way we refuse to inform them.

Quinn recorded her cohort’s weird views. Four months later, these crackpots started on Gore. Why on earth do we gripe about Quinn while we disappear their misconduct?