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2 March 2001

Our current howler (part IV): Unchecked-and-balanced

Synopsis: How can the press corps’ work be so awful? We trace it right back to first principles.

Commentary by William Bennett
Larry King Live, CNN, 2/27/01

For the record, some of our readers have written to claim that Bill Bennett is a little bit weak with his metrics. He's been drug and education czars. But on Tuesday's King Live, he said this:

BENNETT: Mr. Vignali went to jail because he was involved in distributing 800 pounds of cocaine. His lawyer said, no, it wasn't that bad, just a thousand kilos of cocaine.

Do you have any idea of how much damage 1000 kilos of cocaine can do? Well, 800 pounds of cocaine could effectively provide one rock of crack for every kid in Los Angeles. It's 1000 kilos—less, but still, a substantial amount of cocaine.

As we noted in Wednesday's HOWLER, the lawyer had actually said something completely different. (He said the judge in the case found Vignali responsible for 5-15 kilos. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/01.) But some readers made a further point; to them, it seemed Bennett was saying that 1000 kilos was less than 800 pounds. If that's what Larry's King-pin meant, then in that he was totally wrong.

We're not real sure what Bennett meant. But whatever! Why would anyone think that Da Czar would worry about something like that? Over the past six weeks, it's become crystal clear; in the grimy discourse our pundits conduct, "facts" play almost no role at all. In truth, the very concept of a "fact" seems to be missing from the press corps' current culture. Just how horrible can it get? To the press corps, accepting a gift from long-time friends can now mean that you've "stolen the silverware." ("Hahahahahahaha"—TV pundits politely laugh at each other.) And if long-time friends do give you a gift, Al Hunt will state another "fact." Al's preferred fact: You conducted a "shakedown." (Margaret Carlson will say that you "leaned on them.")

When have you seen such astounding behavior? When have our Counters of Towels ever made it so clear—that they're prepared to say any d*mn thing they please, as long as it serves Preferred Stories? In the past six weeks, it's happened time and again. The pundits recite a Favored Tale. Soon, the basic "facts" seem to break down. No one makes the slightest effort to go back and establish what actually happened—but the Official Preferred Images live on forever. In this morning's Post, for example, Charles Krauthammer mentions "the bridal registry." Was there ever such a thing? Fer sh'r, Maureen Dowd no longer says so. She's now palpably thrilled to be able to say that Rita Pynoos asked friends to buy Hill a gift (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/28/01). Was the Hill involved? Dowd doesn't claim that. But it doesn't matter if the registry happened. Scribes get to chuckle about it.

Gruesome. We have never seen such grimy work by such a corrupt little mafia. But how in the world can their work be so bad? How can humans function so poorly? We think it goes back to first principles. What allows our Counters of Towels to behave as no other sector could do? Simple—the press corps is completely free from the checks that serve to restrain other sectors. The courts and the press are the two basic "checks" that serve to keep other sectors in line. But the First Amendment lets journalists hide from the courts; and their own Code of Silence frees them up from the press. Because of their grisly but complete Code of Silence, our Counters of Towels can do what they like. At this point, they only need fear Eric Boehlert!

How do things work in other sectors? When engineers make up facts, dear friends, bridges fall down and the crumbums get sued. And before the case ever gets to court, they read about themselves in the papers. You can't take our Counters of Towels to court, and they swear an oath not to savage each other. Checks and balances don't bother this crew. And their work—in a rancid, headlong decline—now shows where such immunity takes us.

The Founding Fathers knew the score. Corrupt, dishonest, lazy, inept—we humans need some checks on our conduct. But our Counters of Towels have no such restraints. As we marvel at the press corps' performance, we're renewed in our praise for the Founders.

Next week: We're hoping to shut THE HOWLER back down. But we'll incomparably set some time aside to review the all-important budget coverage.