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Caveat lector

TAPPING BACK! TAPPED fights back against our blundering. We pen an incomparable reply:


FOX & UNFRIENDLY: They never miss at Fox & Friends. Here was the egregious Steve Doocy, opening this morning’s program:

DOOCY: But, of course, our lead story is this: The man who invented the Internet now has plenty of time to go surfin’…
Too perfect. We’ll review the Gore announcement all week, starting tomorrow. Meanwhile—yes, we quoted Debra Saunders accurately in last Friday’s HOWLER. The San Francisco Chronicle subsequently changed the on-line version of her column without noting that a correction had been made. Many readers went to the link and thought that we had doctored her quote. Sorry—that’s the sort of thing Saunders does. We include a remarkable e-mail from Saunders at the end of this morning’s post.

Maybe grade inflation at the nation’s colleges really is starting to take its toll. Yes, readers—it was comical when TAPPED, at the liberal American Prospect, recited conservative talking-points about the coverage of Lott (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/13/02). Now, TAPPED turns out to be very angry at our critique of their musings. “When, exactly, did Bob Somerby become such a blundering idiot?” the gang wonders. Based on the rest of TAPPED’s reply, the answer to that question is clear. Bob Somerby became a blundering idiot the day he dared criticize TAPPED!

Sorry, but here at THE HOWLER, the low, mordant chuckling continues. In their rebuttal, the nameless fellows quote us, then comment. Try to believe that they said this:

TAPPED: This is such a mush of twisted logic and impenetrable non sequiturs that we’re not sure where to begin. If Somerby really thinks that the press sat on the Lott story to “bow to conservative power”—whatever the heck that means—or out of some kind of sympathy for neo-Confederates, fine. He’s entitled to his own opinions, however deranged. But please, man, leave us out of it.
If only we could. Meanwhile, though, try to believe that they actually said it! Try to believe that TAPPED is puzzled by the very idea that pundits could “bow to conservative power!” Maybe they should take on the “blundering” Howard Kurtz next. On Saturday’s Reliable Sources, this was the very concept with which he framed his segment on the Lott coverage (see below).

Gentlemen! Gentlemen!! Let’s remember how important it is to read our original sources! Here’s how our report began: “Why was the press corps slow to react to Lott’s remark? At THE HOWLER, we really can’t say.” At THE HOWLER, we don’t really know why the press moved slowly, but TAPPED’s explanation is silly. And yes, it’s funny that a liberal rag could only think of an explanation that preserves the notion of “liberal bias”—an explanation straight from conservative sites. Was the corps slow on Lott, as TAPPED asserts, because they didn’t want to burn insider contacts? We noted that the same corps ducked the Georgia flag flap. That story involved no insider class. Why did the press punt on that?

How strong is the theory put forward by TAPPED? It’s very weak—unless you’re looking for ways to preserve the notion of “liberal bias.” Just think about a few precedents. In early 1999, some newspapers did detailed reporting about Lott’s ties to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a very shaky racialist group. Lott said he didn’t know what the group was about—and he clearly seemed to be lying. But did the pundit corps go after Lott? No—pundits went after Gore instead, concocting “lies” which they put in Gore’s mouth. (TAPPED applauds us for debunking those slanders.) But Gore is a major insider, too. Why would journalists be afraid to slime one insider, but go out of its way to slime another? In fact, Clinton and Gore were slimed for ten years. Kids, the press corps does go after insiders. They just didn’t go after Lott.

TAPPED’s response only proves the point we made in our original post. We said—much more in sadness than anger—that we now “suffer from such a brainwashed insider clique that even liberals can’t seem to imagine that the pundit corps bows to conservative power.” In its rebuttal, TAPPED angrily says it is puzzled by the very idea of such a syndrome. There’s really no way to make it more clear—our original judgment was incomparably right.
Did the press hold back because Lott’s an insider? When progressives channel such theories from Andrew Sullivan, yes, that is a bit funny. But then, TAPPED says that it can’t even picture pundits being cowed by conservative power! In that bizarre admission, we see why the progressive movement—which keeps sending unprepared boys to fight men—is currently being eaten alive in the spin-driven national discourse. TAPPED can get as mad as it wants. Dems need to understand this sad process.

Give him credit. Howard Kurtz never cited the DAILY HOWLER as he discussed the Lott flap last week. But on Saturday’s Reliable Sources, he deftly adopted our basic point. “Why was the so-called ‘liberal media’ so slow to get going,” he asked, right at the start of his segment about the Lott matter. Too bad “liberal” Josh Marshall was sitting by, eager to squash Howie’s story.

Kurtz pointed out that the nation’s papers were slow to cite the Lott story. Then he lobbed Marshall a great big softball. How easy could Howie have made it?
KURTZ: In retrospect, this was a colossal misjudgment. This is a story that raised, ended up raising questions about whether Trent Lott could hang on to his job. So are the “liberal media” so accustomed to being beaten over the head with accusations of bias that they’re kind of reluctant to take on a conservative Republican senator?
Earth to TAPPED: That would be a good example of journalists “bowing to conservative power!” Even Kurtz—Rush Limbaugh’s new friend—has heard of the troubling syndrome!

We don’t know why major papers moved so slowly on Lott. But clearly, the nation’s papers weren’t acting “liberal” as they dragged their heels on the story. Nonetheless, here was Marshall’s odd reply as Kurtz’s fat pitch crossed the plate:

MARSHALL (continuing directly from above): I don’t think it was really a matter of liberal media, conservative media, whatever. I think this was just a big blind spot. But you know, a lot of this stuff that’s come out after what Trent Lott said—that he had associations with this group or that group—has come out before, and it was sort of treated as well, maybe a minor embarrassment, but not that big a deal. And I think, you know, there was more attention that week to the, you know, the John Kerry haircut story. It just—it was a blind spot, but I don’t see it as an ideological blind spot.
Was the coverage driven by ideology? We don’t know. But speaking of blind spots, just check out what Marshall says about the press corps’ conduct. He says the media were slow to report on Lott. He says they downplayed the (startling) reports about Lott in 1999. And instead of reporting on Lott, he notes, the press corps was all over John Kerry’s hair! But none of that suggests to Marshall that Kurtz’s suggestion may have some merit. None of that suggests that the “liberal media” may not be that liberal, or that the “liberal media” may not exist, or that—as Kurtz suggested—the “so-called liberal media” may be cowed by conservative power. None of that occurred to Marshall. Almost surely, Howie thought he was lobbing one in. Josh tried to bunt—and he missed.

Why does this matter? “Liberal bias” is the most effective propaganda tool of the past forty years. It provides conservatives with a ready excuse for any news story they don’t like. When the critique began around 1960, it almost surely had some merit. But after ten years of attacks against Clinton and Gore, the moth-eaten theory has little merit—except as a highly effective way of winning the endless spin wars.

But last week, timid souls like TAPPED and Marshall were eager to downplay topic. These, of course, are the same timid people who did so little to fight the press corps’ twenty-month War Against Gore. The press corps’ relentless attack against Gore almost surely handed the White House to Bush. And “good guy” pundits were missing in action as the twenty-month war lumbered on.

TAPPED applauds our work in this area. “There was a time when Somerby provided a useful corrective to the media's tendency to distort and recycle conservative propaganda about Democrats, particularly Al Gore,” the boys write. Unfortunately, their own publication did next to nothing with this work at the time it was actually happening. Try not to laugh out loud when you read this current update from TAPPED:

TAPPED: AL GORE AND THE HACK FACTOR. The New York Times reports that Al Gore may be leaning toward not running in 2004 because he believes he's got too much existing baggage with the media. Funny they should mention it. We have an article on just this topic coming out in our next issue, which hits the Web starting on Wednesday. Stay tuned.
Phew! Just in time!

Why didn’t “progressives” fight in real time? We don’t know, but Dems need to complain when they refuse to fight even now. On Reliable Sources, Kurtz had to turn to Sytephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard to hear a real challenge to the Lott coverage. Josh Marshall is safe, and he stays within the lines. But when “progressive” go on cable TV and offer comments like those Marshall made, Dems don’t ever have to wonder why the ruling press feels perfectly freer to lie about their leaders. Democrats need to learn to fight—and they should start by fighting Josh Marshall. More to come this week.

THE LIBERAL PRESS GETS OUT ITS AIRBRUSH: As Marshall noted, our pundits yawned back in 1999 when Lott’s ties to the CCC were reported. The corps’ disinterest was a bit surprising given what the reporting showed. It was clear that Lott had extensive ties to a very extreme racial group. And it was fairly clear that Lott was dissembling in his repeated disavowals. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/14/02.

Did the “liberal press corps” swing into action? Yes—against Al Gore! But even now, the corps is using some very soft soap in its reporting of Lott and race. Now that the story is being watched, our papers are soft-soaping facts.

Consider Lott’s ties to the CCC. Back in 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported, in great detail, about that group’s bizarro conduct. On January 26, 1999 Judy Pasternak started like this:

PASTERNAK: [I]ts Web site warns that blacks may “burn down your cities” and Third World immigrants are “bringing their inferior cultures.” The council publishes monographs too. One suggests that the United States be partitioned by race: the South to blacks, the Pacific Northwest to whites and the West Coast to Asian Americans.

The council claims 15,000 members nationally, including neo-Nazis from home and abroad—a fusion echoed in the stiff-armed salute to the Confederate flag that opens some of its meetings.

The CCC was a bunch of odd dudes. And it was perfectly clear, in Pasternak’s work, that Lott had deep ties to the group.

Yep—the Times laid it out back in 1999, and the pundit corps pretty much yawned. But now that the story is on center stage, the paper is going quite easy. Now that its readers are following closely, the paper has largely airbrushed the group to which Lott belonged. The paper’s readers are not being told about the extent of the solon’s odd conduct.

The CCC has almost disappeared. On December 10, Nick Anderson penned the Times’ first treatment of the new Lott flap. Here’s how he described the CCC:

ANDERSON: For Lott, the reaction to his comments was no small matter. In 1998 and 1999 he was forced to answer questions about his contacts with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that fomented controversial rhetoric on race and immigration. Leaders of the group denied that they were racist but acknowledged taking provocative stands.
The group used “controversial rhetoric.” Two days later, Anderson mentioned the group once again:
ANDERSON: Lott also faced criticism in the late 1990s for his contacts with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that has been attacked by critics as a source of segregationist rhetoric.
The group’s rhetoric had been “attacked by critics.” Incredibly, that is the full extent of the LAT’s current reporting on the CCC. Now that Times readers are paying attention, they are being soft-soaped nicely. Similar cleaned-up recitations are being offered elsewhere in the press.

Here at THE HOWLER, we hate feeding frenzies. Last week, Lott said the stupidest thing in the world; press and pols are now standing in line, determined to Look Good By Contrast. Pundits are getting easy columns; cable shows get high-interest segments. But yo! The press corps has toned its reporting way down; the CCC has almost been airbrushed away. Why is the press corps reporting this way? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t really know. But let’s say it again: If your press corps is spilling with liberal bias, it’s finding another odd way to show it.