8 October 1999
Our current howler (part III): While Washington chattered
Synopsis: Buchanan attempted to raise a point. The chattering press corps ignored it.
Commentary by Carl Cameron
Special Report, Fox News Channel, 10/7/99
William F. Buckley Jr.
Title, The National Review, 12/30/91
William F. Buckley, Jr.
Erratic fusillade on the Buchanan range, The Washington Times, 9/28/99
Commentary by Katrina vanden Heuvel
Hardball, CNBC, 9/24/99
A Fair Reading of History
Christopher Layne and Benjamin Schwarz, The New York Times, 9/30/99
Getting Personal at Homecoming
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 10/7/99
Everyone seems to have a view of what Buchanan said. Last night,
Carl Cameron played tape of Donald Trump, according to whom Buchanan
had said that he's "in love with Adolf Hitler." Cameron
offered this comment:
CAMERON: Buchanan denies anything close to affection for Hitler,
but does write in his new book that the United States could have
stayed out of World War II.
He does? Do we have to quote the text again? The U.S. entered
the war after Pearl Harbor. Here's what Buchanan writes:
BUCHANAN: Whether or not it had been America's war before December
7, it was our war now. In Yeats's line, "All changed, changed
utterly." Americans were united as never before or since
by Japan's treachery in attacking our ships and murdering our
sailors in their sleep, united in the conviction that the Japanese
empire should be destroyed.
Again, as a declaration that the U.S. "could have stayed
out of World War II," that strikes us as pretty strange stuff.
Nor does Buchanan anywhere say that we should not have responded
to Germany's declaration.
So have we often seen it go when the press corps gets itself
on a jagpundits feel free to say what they please, ignoring texts
or established facts. In the present case, Buchanan has actually
had some defenders, perhaps because of his career in the press.
In this case, we have actually seen what we rarely seedissent
from a press corps frenzy. But all around the press in the past
few weeks, we have seen odd accounts of what Buchanan saidaccounts
in which scribes fail to cite any text to support their pleasing
Interestingly, one of Buchanan's current defenders has been
none other than William F. Buckley. In 1991, Buckley had written
a lengthy study of Buchanan's statements about Israel and the
influence of Jewish Americans, and he had offered this nuanced
BUCKLEY (1991): I find it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan
against the charge that what he said and did during the period
under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that
drove him to say and do it: most probably, an iconoclastic temperament.
In a footnote to this passage, Buckley ridiculed those who
compared Buchanan to David Duke. But in the current controversy,
Buckley wrote this:
BUCKLEY (1999): So Pat Buchanan comes along and argues that
Great Britain would have been better off, in 1939, letting Hitler
take Polandand go on to take Moscow. Critics are justified in
disagreeing, but it hardly follows from the conjecture that Mr.
Buchanan is moved by the anti-Semitic energumenTo travel from
Mr. Buchanan's provocative and irresponsible impetuosities of
10 years ago to the implied thesis that he didn't want to hurt
Hitler because he admired him so, is intellectually embarrassing.
But you know how that press corps is! Pundits repeatedly cited
Buckley's eight-year-old remarkoften improving on what he
had saidand failed to mention what Buckley said now, which flew
in the face of their preferred interpretation.
Alas! So it goes when the mainstream pundits get a sound bite
or story they like. They make their claim, again and again, often
without reference to established facts or clear texts. And, as
we recently saw in the FALN debate, they tend to focus on motives
and mental states as opposed to statements and facts (see THE
DAILY HOWLER, 9/22/99). Why do they do that? We aren't really
sure. But since motive is extremely hard to prove, you can't be
proven wrong when you assess them. The discussions can ramble
on without endperfect for cable news channels. Is Pat Buchanan
an anti-Semite? We respect those who examine the question with
care. We have less regard for the conversations we've seen, in
which pundits offer characterizations of Buchanan's views without
ever citing Buchanan's text, and where we see the press
corps' passion for chatter about alleged character and alleged
Because there is one final point about the Buchanan discourse
that has simply driven our analysts madthe outright refusal of
the celebrity press corps to consider Buchanan's larger thesis.
Some pundits have said that Buchanan's book was written to signal
the haters home. On the other hand, we quote glutton-for-punishment
Katrina vanden Heuvel, persevering one evening on Hardball:
VANDEN HEUVEL: Pat Buchanan has views of history. These are
Pat Buchanan's views. No serious historian, I believe, would take
these views seriously. But on the Russiaand I study Russiain
terms of post-Communist Russia, what he is saying, there is an
analogy to be made between the way Weimar Germany, post-World
War I, 1920s Germany, was treated, and its contribution to the
rise of Hitler, and what might now emerge in Russia in analogy
to Weimar Germany.
To vanden Heuvel, Buchanan was raising a serious point about
ongoing diplomacy. Indeed, Buchanan has repeatedly raised this
point on TV, and his book ends with a chapter in which he states
his views on America's current role around the world. But vanden
Heuvel was the only pundit we saw who tried to discuss these topics
and assess these claims. It's more fun to stage debates about
motive and character, goosed up with misstatements where needed.
Oh yes. Was vanden Heuvel right about Buchanan-on-history?
At THE HOWLER, we aren't really sure. But we couldn't help noticing
that on this point, as with everything else, cocksure pundits
were quickly contradicted:
LAYNE AND SCHWARZ: [Buchanan's] interpretation is hardly beyond
the pale of respectable discourse. Diplomatic historians have
long made similar argumentsMr. Buchanan's argument is hardly novelBritish
historians have long been divided on whether Britain should have
agreed to intervene if Poland and Germany went to war.
Are Layne and Schwarz right? Don't bother to ask. The pundits
are busily limning Buchanan's souland rewriting his text as it
Improving the news: As you know, we've got a thing about
Ceci Connolly; we think she's done the most puzzling election
writing this year. Yesterday, she offered an article on the opening
of Gore's new Nashville headquarters. Our analysts rushed into
our vaulted chamber with this offending passage:
CONNOLLY: [Gore's] disillusionment only grew when after
Vietnam came Watergate and then his father's defeata loss
the vice president attributes to his father's brave stands on
civil rights, but which in reality also was precipitated by the
elder Gore's inattentiveness to local concerns.
You talk about bungled history! Gore's father lost re-election
in 1970, long before Vietnam ended, and long before Watergate.
As for Gore's account of why his father lost, here is an earlier
passage from this same article:
CONNOLLY: Gore's father, the late senator, "was against
the poll tax in the '40s and for civil rights in the '50s,"
the son recalls. "He was against the Vietnam War and lost
his seat in 1970 because of the courage of his conscience."
Having quoted Gore saying one thing, Connolly then paraphrases
him saying another.
The article provides repetitive examples of the desire to make
stories better. Listen to this odd account:
CONNOLLY: [A]fter three decades in office, the vice president
is not well known outside Washington, and until recently has struggled
with telling his own storythe most basic of political chores.
"He had this wall built up," said Rep. John E. Baldacci
(D-Maine), who learned only last week that the vice president
had served in Vietnam. "He told us he doesn't have to be
vice president anymore; he's a candidate."
If Baldacci just learned that Gore served in Vietnam, it tells
us more about Baldacci than about Gore's walls. Gore's Vietnam
service was widely discussed when he was chosen as Bill Clinton's
running-mate; it was said by pundits, again and again, that his
service helped balance Clinton's history. And by the way, though
it may seem like "three decades" to bored correspondents,
Gore finished his 22nd year in office this year. Do they
ever fact-check at the Post?
Even in the parts of her story that pander to Gore,
Connolly makes things more exciting:
CONNOLLY: The new Gore appears to be having an impact.
"I saw a comfort level in him today when he opened his
headquarters that I haven't seen in a few years, a few months,"
said former Tennessee governor Ned McWherter (D) at a fund-raiser
tonight. "He's ready, prepared, he's able. He's our man."
That "D" is the most significant part of this anecdote.
McWherter is a long-time political ally of Gore. Obviously, his
statement provides no evidence at all that "the new Gore"
is "having an impact." (There was a "D" on
Baldacci's name, too.)
The truth is, there wasn't any big story in Wednesday's opening.
But the press corps loves to improve the news (even in innocuous
matters). It's the point that we made in "The 21-year-old
intern." You can see for yourself. Just click here.