CARLSON STRIKES AGAIN! Once again, a remarkable pundit shows us the soul of her press corps: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2006
ANOTHER POSTPONEMENT: Weve been called on a mission of national import. Before leaving, we considered a recent Digby post—and a pundits latest reinvention.
THREE CHEERS FOR DIGBY: Digby gets it wonderfully right in the second paragraph quoted below. It would be a very good thing if we all labored hard to help American voters understand this part of their recent history. Digby is discussing Jeff Greenfields recent essay about Barack Obamas clothes:
DIGBY (12/13/06): Is it a sin, in and of itself, that Greenfield trivialized Barack Obama for his wardrobe and compared him to a holocaust denying psychopath? Not really. Is it a major goof for Jeanne Moos to simultaneously go out on the street and ask people if they think his "weird" middle name means that he can't be elected? Probably not.Well disagree slightly about the Moos goof; adult journalists should have enough sense to stay away from weird middle names, especially when theres an ethnic component. At some point, people like Moos simply have to be told: Youre no longer seven years old. But American citizens need to hear the story Digby is discussing. When the press corps conducted its bizarre campaigns against Clinton and Gore, we had very few real liberal institutions—and those few we had were deeply connected to the mainstream press organs which were staging those wars. (No, the Whitewater folderol was not a product of the right-wing noise machine.) Our journals took a pass on Fools for Scandal; then they sat around and stared while the press corps went after Candidate Gore. And yes—the world has been dramatically changed because of the clownish misconduct our liberal institutions chose to ignore. For that reason, it has been amazing to see how reluctant we liberals remain when it comes to telling that story. In part, thats because of what Digby said next:
DIGBY (continuing directly): I don't know what is wrong with them and their social construct that makes them so susceptible to this, or why they fail to see how this bias toward phony Republican machismo distorts political reporting, but it's a big problem for this country. Whatever their psychological or political motivations, we cannot take the chance that these narratives will go unchallenged again. Bad things happen. Wars. Torture. Dead people.I don't know what is wrong with them, Digby says—and we have increasingly come to suspect that this helps explain ongoing liberal silence about aspects of the mainstream press. Their conduct in the past decade has been so strange that its hard to wrap ones brain around it. We sometimes refer to the corporate media, but that has been a fairly dry talking-point (although it surely explains a good chunk of what has happened). But especially in the presidential arena, we liberals have utterly failed to take the Clinton-Gore challenge. We have failed to explain what was done to Clinton, then to Gore—have failed to explain this to average voters. The story begins with Fools for Scandal, then runs up into Campaign 2000. But many liberals still recite the press corps talking points about Clinton and Gore. (Al Gore ran a lousy campaign! Good grief. Were so easily scripted!)
Its sad and embarrassing to see it continue. But the press corps narratives cant go unchallenged again. Digby said it, and we sign on—and we all have to look for the metaphors which make this story comprehensible. Yes, its hard to describe the work of the fraternal order we still call a press corps. But they seem ready to Love Boat the next campaign. Its up to us to scream and yell—and to demand that we get something better.
POSTSCRIPT: How endlessly inane is their work, by the way? Heres NBCs Mike Viqueira, near the end of last evenings Hardball:
VIQUEIRA (12/14/06): Let`s look at the macro picture here though. We`re talking about a 2008— from the Democratic Party—a woman and a man named Barack Obama—whose middle name, incidentally, is Hussein—running for president. So there`s a great deal of diversity we`re talking about. And we`re not even mentioning that that might be the indication of how far American politics have come in that regard. Anyway.Theres always a tendency to assume they were joking. Sorry—no hint of that here.
CARLSON STRIKES AGAIN: Like Jeff Greenfield, Margaret Carlson doesnt quite get it—or she prefers to remain a pretender. In her latest column at the Huffington Post, she recalls a famous, and famously under-reported, incident from Campaign 2000. She recalls the time Bush flunked his pop quiz—and the way Ol Dumb-Ass spun it:
CARLSON (12/14/06): Intelligence matters. If Bush had known more, would he have barged into Iraq and risked the creation of a Shiite theocracy aligned with a nuclear-obsessed Iran? In the 2000 campaign, Bush derided a reporter's request that he name four world leaders in a pop quiz as an example of gotcha journalism.'' That's after Bush only managed to come up with ``Lee'' for Taiwan's president at the time, Lee Teng-hui, and identified Pakistan's leader as General.''Her story is accurate—as far as it goes. On November 3, 1999, Bush did struggle with Andy Hillers pop quiz—and the awkward session was captured on tape. Did Bush reject the quiz as gotcha journalism? On November 5, the AP quoted him saying that. Meanwhile, Bush spokesman Karen Hughes had issued a fuller statement. The APs Glen Johnson reported what Hughes had said:
JOHNSON (11/5/99): A Bush campaign official defended his performance.Bush was reported calling it gotcha. Beyond that, Hughes compared the quiz to a Jeopardy contest—and she said that few other people could have answered Hillers questions. Result? With blinding speed, a long string of Carlsons colleagues got into line to recite the same points. They even recited the Jeopardy line—in their own voices, with no attribution. Carlson omits this minor detail, mocking Bush for what her colleagues all said. But its a startling part of this story.
Hiller was widely attacked for his quiz, by pundits reciting the Bush camps trio of scripts. On the Friday, November 5 Today show, the late David Bloom interviewed Larry Sabato, the respected mainstream media critic. Sabato said, of the pop quiz, It really is pure, unadulterated, gotcha journalism. Were electing a president, not a Jeopardy champ. Sabato had neatly recited two Bush scripts—but all three scripts would be widely echoed on the weekend talk shows. On Fridays NewsHour, for example, Paul Gigot, Mark Shields, and Jim Lehrer agreed—there was an ambush, gotcha quality to Hillers ankle-biting questions, which gave journalism another black eye. Lehrer referred to Hillers Jeopardy question[s]; Shields voiced a sense of relief that I wasnt asked them. Well, you join millions with that one, Lehrer said. Indeed, all over Washington, pundits were swearing that they would have failed the pop quiz too, the very point Hughes had made. On PBS Washington Week, Jeff Birnbaum accused Hiller of gotcha journalism, and Alan Murray (Wall Street Journal) said that he would have flunked the quiz. On the November 6 Capital Gang, Robert Novak called Hiller a wise guy reporter who had engaged in gotcha journalism. The real problem, Novak said, is that winning Jeopardy games and leading the nation require different skills. On Meet the Press the following day, William Safire also said gotcha.
As usual, mainstream pundits all said the same things in a textbook display of Group Thinking. But this time, the press corps took the candidates side, reciting the Bush campaigns points. On Sunday, November 7, for example, a range of journalists took turns saying it: We couldnt have answered those hard questions either. Steve Roberts said it on Late Edition. Ditto his wife, Cokie Roberts, on This Week. David Maraniss said it on Meet the Press. And needless to say, at Fox News Sunday, all the pundits professed their rank ignorance. Four days had passed since Hillers pop quiz. But Hillers questions had been so fiendish, the scribes couldnt answer them still:
TONY SNOW (11/7/99): Lets begin with a pop quiz. First, can anybody here at this moment name the prime minister of Chechnya?The questions still couldnt be answered! For the record, the pop quiz was called gotcha journalism by Fred Barnes, Juan Williams, Deborah Orin, Al Hunt, and Martin Schram; they joined Lehrer, Sabato, Birnbaum and Novak in this group assessment. Amazingly, Jeopardy comparisons were also widespread, voiced by Morton Kondracke, Clarence Page, Michael Barone and Howard Kurtz, along with Lehrer, Sabato and Novak. Your pundits routinely speak with one voice; in this case, though, that voice spoke for Bush. A string of scribes said the same three things the Bush campaign had said. (No, there were no attributions.)
And oh, by the way, one more scribe must be mentioned—and yes, her name is Carlson. Today, Carlson rolls her eyes at Dumb-Ass Bush for having called the pop quiz gotcha. But that weekend, Carlson appeared on Capital Gang. And Andy Hillers gotcha name game was part of her Outrage of the Week:
MARK SHIELDS (11/6/99): Margaret Carlson?Principally, Carlson was troubled because Bush had said that Musharrafs coup might be a good thing. But Hillers pop quiz was a gotcha name game; the reporter shouldnt have played it. (By the way: Note what Carlson says this week about Musharrafs ascendance.)
Should Andy Hiller have staged his pop quiz? In general, were opposed to such stunts. But Margaret Carlson—ol reliable—has shown us the heart of the press corps again. In real time, she called it a gotcha name game; today, she slams Bush for having said the same thing. But so it goes—sic semper the fatuous—in our remarkable press corps.
THE FULLER TRANSCRIPT: Heres the fuller transcript from Capital Gang. Note the truly amazing way Novak ticks off the campaigns three points (which we enumerate). But then, his colleagues were reciting these points quite widely—and no, it wasnt just the conservatives. Mainstream pundits stampeded that week to recite the Bush campaigns points:
SHIELDS (11/6/99): Bob Novak?For the record, this week also marked the start of the press corps four-week obsession with Naomi Wolf. Regarding that matter, one thing is clear—their scripts, which were varied and deeply inane, hadnt been swiped from Al Gore.
AS USUAL, STIFF AND WOODEN: The next week, Gore had some fun with the quiz during a rare appearance on Imus. The APs Sandra Sobieraj recorded part of Gores deadpan parody of the foreign policy pop quiz that tripped up Republican rival George W. Bush last week. As we start, Gore is speaking to Imus:
SOBIERAJ (11/9/99): The other day I was talking to Utkir Sultanov—you know, the prime minister of Uzbekistan? And he asked me, 'Did you send a birthday card to Hamed?' That's of course Hamed Karoui, the prime minister of Tunisia," Gore told a chuckling Don Imus.Sobieraj, knowing her requisite scripture, also called this a bit of smarty-pants bravura by Gore. According to the established script, Gore always acted like the smartest kid in the class (acceptable variant: like a kid asking the teacher for extra homework). Result? Even before explaining that Gores outing was comic, Sobieraj used the word smarty-pants to get herself right with the gods.