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10 June 1999

A Howler follow-up: Still gettin’ lucky

Synopsis: Pundits continued assuring the public that Wild Bill had just gotten lucky.

Commentary by Kevin Whitelaw
Washington Journal, C-SPAN 6/10/99

Hail to the Chief
Mary McGrory, The Washington Post, 6/10/99

As readers know, we take a back seat to no one in our appreciation of the double-D-dumbness of that Washington press corps. And you’d think we’d be past the point of surprise at their ability to recite approved scripts.

But even we were unprepared for what the analysts brought to our chambers this morning. Truth is, the analysts were heading off on a speaking engagement, and we had decided to give them the entire day off. We were relaxing in our sumptuous editor’s wing, here on the sprawling campus of DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, when--over the sounds of a C-SPAN 2 subcommittee re-airing--we made out a timid knock on the door.

The analysts had thought that we’d want to be wakened. It was Kevin Whitelaw, of U.S. News, singing our favorite new song:

WHITELAW: It is difficult in the end to declare victory in this one. NATO did achieve the goals that it set out for the most part, but the costs of this really were quite severe. The previous caller was exactly right. There were surprisingly few casualties. A lot of that had to do with the fact that NATO planes rarely dropped below 15,000 feet. They were for the most part bombing from very high up. We never saw the Apache helicopters and so they were able to win it I guess without resorting to more risky tactics. They avoided sending in ground troops into a hostile environment but it was a very expensive campaign. It wreaked an amazing amount of havoc in Yugoslavia and I think they were basically lucky to emerge with the lives of their soldiers basically intact and the alliance intact.

We quickly shut off our C-SPAN tape and snapped alert when we saw the dispatch. Those analysts! The Whitehead doctrine had all the elements we’ve come to love in the past several days! The previous caller hadn’t said that NATO had escaped with “relatively few” casualties; he had explicitly said there had been no fatalities at all. Whitehead managed to spin this down twice, saying NATO had emerged with soldiers’ lives “basically intact.” And of course we enjoyed the grudging way he explained NATO’s lack of combat losses. They had refused to engage in risky conduct, he moped, and surely would have suffered many losses if they’d only been a little more careless! Whitehead lamented the failure to use the Apache helicopters, which almost surely would have led to embarrassing loss of life, and he said that, although NATO achieved most of its goals, and wreaked “amazing havoc” on the other side, he couldn’t figure out who had won. In ending his discourse, he pleased us mightily. NATO had basically been lucky, he said, although every word he uttered described studied conduct. No example of fortuity crossed his lips.

Mary McGrory was right there too, the analysts went on to show us. She ended a column, “Hail to the Chief,” by singing the same stock refrain:

MCGRORY: Clinton is the luckiest man alive, we’ve been shown that again. But the country is lucky, too.

Thus ended a column devoted to showing how wrong Clinton’s critics had been the whole time! Not a word in her column was designed to support the conclusion with which she was ending. She made it clear--it’s now the law. Pundits are required to say Bill got lucky. They said it so long as they obsessed over sex, they just can’t stop saying it now.

Tomorrow: The pundits cling to their favorite notion: Wild Bill should have threatened ground troops.