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10 January 2002

Our current howler (part I): When Bernie met Lexis

Synopsis: At first, we shook our fists in the air. But then, we looked up Bernie’s cites.

Bernard Goldberg, Regnery Publishing, 2002

Commentary by Bob Jamieson
World News Tonight Sunday, ABC, 2/11/01

Commentary by Brian Palmer
CNN Saturday Morning News, CNN, 8/4/01

Here at THE HOWLER, we like Bernie Goldberg; in fact, our entire staff spent a recent hour chatting with Bernie by phone from Florida, where Goldberg had wasted his early evening getting short-changed on time by Mike Barnicle. (Barnicle, guest hosting for you-know-who, bumped Bernie back to one segment.) For our part, we were filling in for Victoria Jones as she took a night off from WMAL. We and our co-host, whose name slips our minds, thought Bernie would make a great guest.

But just because we think that Bernie’s OK, that don’t tell the tale on his book. Goldberg has published the latest must-read of the talk-show right, and let’s just say it—this book has big problems. Consider Bernie’s first substantive chapter—Chapter 5, "Bill Clinton Cured Homelessness." At first, Bernie had us shaking our fists at the way the press was trashing poor Bush. Then we happened to look up his cites, and we began to discover the horrible truth—Goldberg’s book is a big, ugly mess.

According to Bernie, the press has played tricks in the way that they’ve covered the homeless. You’ve heard the spin—they played up the issue when Reagan was prez, then dropped it when Clinton took over. But Bernie takes it one step further, claiming they’re playing their old games again. According to Bernie, as soon as President Bush was sworn in, then began to go after him also:

GOLDBERG: I also choose not to believe that when the Sunday edition of ABC World News Tonight rediscovered the homeless story just three weeks after George W. Bush was sworn in as president it was nothing more than coincidence. That when reporter Bob Jamieson said, "In New York City, the number of homeless in the shelter system has risen above 25,000 a night for the first time since the late 1980s," it was not an attempt to say, "Here we go again—a Republican is in the White House and the homeless are back." And on August 4, 2001, when CNN also rediscovered homelessness and quoted sources saying, "The number of homeless people is on the rise this summer," I choose to believe it was not CNN’s way of suggesting that now that a conservative Republican is president, Reagan-era misery will soon be back with us in full force.

Bernie had tongue in cheek, of course. As the context of his chapter made clear, he was suggesting that the two naughty nets were dumping the blame on poor Bush.

Needless to say, Bernie had us shaking our fists as we first read his great jeremiad. Imagine! Imagine that, three weeks after Bush is sworn in, ABC would try to blame him for "growing" the homelessness problem! All our analysts were plenty peeved at the perfidy the net had displayed. And then we did a crafty thing. We decided to look up the ABC screed on LEXIS, and—surprise!—we saw Bob Jamieson say this (he was reporting from Aurora, Illinois):

JAMIESON (2/11/01): The 175-bed shelter in this city of 130,000 has recorded a steady increase in homeless for the last year, particularly families with children. [emphasis added]

Say what? Jamieson never mentioned Bush’s name. But he did report that the rise in the homeless had been going on "for the last year!" Since Jamieson was reporting in February 2001—three weeks after Bush was sworn in—that of course meant that the rise in the problem had been happening under Bill Clinton. And when we looked at CNN’s nasty natter, they spelled it out even more clearly:

PALMER (8/4/01): It’s not just New York City. Many cities across the country report sharp increases in the number of people searching for places to live. Demand for emergency shelter in 25 surveyed cities increased an average of 15 percent in 1999, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. [emphasis added]

CNN didn’t mention Bush’s name either. They did interview New York mayor Giuliani, and they made it clear that the rise in this problem began in Clinton’s Year 7. CNN, of course, was especially cagey. They scheduled this ugly bit of Bush-whacking for 7 o’clock on the Saturday Morning News, at a time when eleven people nationwide would almost surely be watching.

Here at THE HOWLER, we choose not to believe that Bernie tried to fool you on this one. We choose not to believe that he knew full well what these reports really said. We choose not to believe that he slandered Jamieson knowing that Jamieson’s report was quite fair. We choose not to believe that this was Regnery’s way of feeding pabulum to cattle-like readers.

No, because we’ve read the rest of Goldberg’s book, we choose to believe something different. We choose to believe that this laughable passage was like so much of the rest of this text—lazy, vacuous, worthless twaddle, the kind that will fuel a Big Crack-Up.

Next: According to Bernie, a piece in the Times was "targeting men." We looked it up. It concerned snails and insects!

Holiday’s over: We finished limning the Coming Crack-Up. You know what to do. Just click here.


The Daily update (1/10/02)

With his latest report from Clown College: Don’t miss Andrew Sullivan in today’s Salon. You will be disappointed, though. No comments on blue states or red ones.

Question: Where in the world did we get this foo’? By "we," I don’t mean the United States. I refer to poor suffering humanity.