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28 February 2001

Our current howler (part III): The gift to be simple

Synopsis: Hunt, Dowd and Carlson repeat favorite tales. You might say there’s "no give" in their stories.

The Democrats' Albatross
Al Hunt, The Wall Street Journal, 2/22/01

A Shower Of Gifts For Hillary And Bill
Margaret Carlson, Time, 2/5/01

Fork It Over
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 2/4/01

Your Fault. No, Yours. No, Yours.
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 2/21/01

Here at THE HOWLER, we've marveled of late at the way the press corps invents its tall tales. We've also been struck by their cold, cold hearts. Here was Al Hunt just last Thursday:

HUNT: The former first lady hasn't been any more discreet [than her husband]. Her record $8 million book advance and shakedown of friends for gifts before she became senator was ethically dubious and politically dumb...

Speaking of "ethically dubious" (and speaking of "dumb"), we focus on one word in Hunt's piece. We focus on the word shakedown..

What exactly did Hunt mean by saying a "shakedown" occurred? Who knows? High-minded scribes don't explain such things in today's imperious press corps. But Hunt was hardly alone in the image. Margaret Carlson, a few weeks before:

CARLSON (paragraph 3): What's most revealing here is not the gifts themselves—although it is hard to picture one adult giving another a sofa—but how horrified people were at the very suggestion that Hillary would lean on supporters to furnish her house. The Clintons have long dismissed the criticism of those in the vast right-wing conspiracy whom they don't respect. But how do you dismiss the views of those you do respect—who insist you would never sink so low, until they are silenced by proof of your grasping?

At least Hunt came right out and made his claim. Careful readers will note that Carlson is slicker; she refers to "the suggestion" that Hillary would "lean on" supporters. These kinds of constructions, in other contexts, are known by a naughty word—"Clintonesque." She seemed to do it all through her piece:

CARLSON (paragraph 1): Last month, when newspapers reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton had registered for gifts like a bride at a department store, many of her friends insisted Hillary simply wouldn't do something that tacky. Now that the President and First Lady have filed their annual financial-disclosure report, we have proof they would. Amid the DVD player and chandelier were $22,000 in china and $18,000 in silverware. Only one gift looks like a quid pro quo: furniture valued at $7,375 from Denise Rich, the ex-wife of Marc Rich, the fugitive tycoon pardoned last week.

Notice she doesn't says that HRC "registered for gifts," she only says that a newspaper said so. And she doesn't say we have proof that she did—she says we have proof that "they would do something that tacky." Later, Carlson says the registry did occur. In the process, she further scolds those impossible Clintons for stooping to taking the vile gifts:

CARLSON (paragraph 4): No prior First Family has reported a $190,000-plus haul in their last year (the Bushes only reported $52,000; Ronald Reagan's friends bought him a $2.5 million house, which he rented for $15,000 a month). While the givers may have hoped their generosity might remain a little secret between them and the recipients, the Clintons, well aware of disclosure requirements, had no such expectation. Even as Hillary was registering for the china (Spode) and the silver (Faberge), she understood that the day would come when she would have to admit to the world what she had done. In the absence of a law (the Senate gift ban didn't take effect for Hillary until Jan. 3) or an active conscience, you might think shame would rein in the Clintons. How many people would park in a handicapped space if they knew the next morning's paper would carry a picture of it? Answer: no one not in need of therapy.

The doctor is IN, and we know what she thinks—Hill is in need of a shrink. Meanwhile, we've learned a bit about Carlson's fact-gathering skills—the Bushes took $39,000 per year in gifts (nothing wrong with that), the Clintons took $38,000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/01). But facts like that don't further the corps' favorite tales. So—shopping with care for the things that she likes—Carlson picked "facts" out that do.

To fulfill the age-old Rule of Three, we'll scrape the barrel's bottom. Here's the simply sublime Queen of Lackadaise, reporting the work of the "grifters:"

DOWD: In the end, she had to succumb and write checks for $86,000 worth of tainted loot. But now we know the junior senator from New York has terribly flawed judgment. And her sense of entitlement knows no bounds.

How do you even suggest that someone give you two coffee tables?

Hillary: Oh, Denise, I just love that coffee table of yours.

Denise: I'll get you one.

Hillary: Two.

Here's where our problem begins. Hunt says the Clintons engaged in a "shakedown." Carlson says they "leaned on their friends." Queen Lackadaise even invents the conversation where Hill solicits the "tainted loot." But it's weird! In all the huffing and puffing we've read, here's the closest we got to any real info on where the offending gifts came from:

DOWD (2/4): I heard about the Hillary secret "shower" just before Christmas. The story was that Rita Pynoos, the wife of a Beverly Hills businessman, Morris Pynoos, was talking to other wealthy Clinton supporters about contributing $5,000 each so Hillary could have all the things she never had a chance to accrue during her years in public housing.

There were lists of Hillary's china and silver patterns, available at Borsheim's in Omaha and other stores. Time was of the essence because Hillary, who had been elected to the Senate, could take expensive gifts only until she was sworn in and the Senate gift ban went into effect.

By now, it seems most of that "story" was false (see postscript). But Dowd may have been on the mark in small part. Triumphantly—the scribe is amazed when she gets a fact right—Dowd recounted a Meet the Press minute:

DOWD (2/21): On "Meet the Press," Tim Russert asked the former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, "In the final weeks, did friends of Mrs. Clinton not solicit others and say, 'Would you please buy this silverware, these gifts for Mrs. Clinton for her new houses?'"

"Yes, that happened," Mr. Podesta finally admitted.

Podesta "admitted" it, readers! At any rate, Queen D was so shocked to have a real fact she rushed it right into the Times. But who did the "soliciting" in this Q & A? Look again, kids. It wasn't the Clintons.

So finally, here's our question. Where, oh where, in any of this does it say that the Clintons "leaned on" their friends? Where is there news of a "shakedown?" Where does it say that Mrs. Clinton initiated the attempt to give gifts? We have seen no one—no one at all—suggest that Hill called Rita up and told her to dig up some plunder. And who are we told that the Clintons "shook down?" A half dozen wealthy, long-term friends. But how do you "shake down" Steven Spielberg? How did the Clintons "shake down" Mary Steenburgen? These are two of the half-dozen friends involved in Rita Pynoos' effort. How, pray tell, were these people "leaned on?" What a surprise—what a major surprise! Hunt, Dowd and Carlson don't say.

Is it really so shocking that friends of the Clintons might have wanted to give them a gift for their home? That long-time friends—who could well afford to—might actually give them a present? According to the small, grimy minds of our masters, we aren't supposed to imagine such things. But guess what? People give gifts to their friends all the time. Only in the minds of Hunt, Dowd and Carlson are "shakedowns" implied by such conduct.

Over the course of the past five weeks, we have seen the grimy little mafia which controls our press make up one tale after another. They do this, oddly, to tell the world that the Clintons have character problems! Hay-yo! But who on earth simply can't imagine people giving gifts to their friends? "No one not in need of therapy," you say? Here at THE HOWLER, we don't play those games. But three ugly minds make us want to.

In case you're scoring at home heh-heh-heh (see below): For a striking list of Dowd-derived errors, see Eric Boehlert's piece in Salon. You know what to do. Just click here.


The occasional update (2/28/01)

Why won't they act like "Beltway Men:" Those very suggestive "Beltway Boys" were up to their old tricks again:

MORT KONDRACKE: Well, you know, Fred, your old pal Dan Burton of the Government Affairs, House Government Affairs Committee is launching a new, familiar investigation. He's trying to get the Secret Service records to show when Denise Rich, Marc Rich's ex-wife, was at—visiting the White House, and he's going to match that up with Hillary Clinton's travel schedule, if you know what I mean.

Hoo hoo hooooo! We thought we did know what Mort meant! And Fred wanted Mort to go further:

BARNES: Well, I—you can spell it out if you want.

KONDRACKE: Well, you know, it may turn out that the Marc Rich pardon was not all about money, or at least not only about money.

The thigh-rubbing pair—acting like "beltway schoolboys"—were trying to gin up some sex. (Remember, though, ye script-aware readers. It isn't the sex. It's the lying.)

Unfortunately, the Lads were working off info from Burton, who was off in his on-air numbers last weekend by a factor of roughly six to forty, depending on how you score it. The excited chairman told the Sunday shows that Denise Rich had been to the White House 100 times in the last year or two. Turned out it was 13-19 times over eight years, according to Tuesday's newspapers. But you know how excited some pundits can get. And we've warned you before about this one:

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, you know, the whole thing now really boils down to corruption in terms of access. Now, you can get access by being a member of the family, in which case you can just kind of float in and out, as Hugh Rodham, as Roger Clinton. Or you can ante up in terms of dollars, which is what I think we're seeing more and more become apparent, in terms of Beth Dozoretz and Denise Rich, that these were people who were big fundraisers—the number of times that Denise Rich visited, you know, it's repeated by some, but it's truly stunning that this person is in the White House. Some people say she may have had a key. It's unbelievable.

It sure is. Believe it or not, that was Juan Williams, again showing off for Brit and Tony on Fox News Sunday. "Some people say" it—so Juan said it too! Except, the other people "said it" in bars. He "said it" on national television.

Tomorrow, we'll look at our talker trying to gimmick a sex tale from Rich. But just review that comment by Williams. There is really no way to state the inanity of this repugnant and pitiful crew called a "press corps." Yet, like a particularly grimy little mafia, they have somehow managed to worm their way into control of our national discourse.