Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

7 November 2001

Our current howler (part I): : Will do and say anything—still!

Synopsis: We needed domestic witches to hunt. In the Standard, Noemie Emery started lying.

Look Who’s Waving the Flag Now
Noemie Emery, The Weekly Standard, 10/15/01

Recapturing the Flag
George Packer, The New York Times, 9/30/01

We Love the Liberties They Hate
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 9/30/01

Put ’Em Up/Flag Fever: the Paradox of Patriotism
Blaine Harden, The New York Times, 9/30/01

It was the subsequent letter-to-the-editor which grabbed us. To its credit, the Weekly Standard included the note in its November 5 issue. In it, George Packer of the NYTimes Mag scorched a Standard contributing ed:

Flag-Waving American
NOEMIE EMERY calls my New York Times Magazine piece "Recapturing the Flag" an "attack on Old Glory as being somehow oppressive and sinister" ("Look Who’s Waving the Flag Now," Oct. 15). The piece is exactly the opposite, as I’m sure Emery is aware.

Emery quotes passages in which I take a critical look at the mindset of liberalism from my youth and attributes them to the argument of the piece—a cheap and deceptive way to score a point. My argument, set down in the opening lines, is impossible for a fair-minded reader to mistake…

While THE WEEKLY STANDARD diligently monitors the stupidity of left-wing writing about the terrorist attacks, it ought to keep another eye on the dishonesty practiced in its own pages.

George Packer
Brooklyn, NY

Yikes! Packer had clearly called Emery a liar. Since letters this frank almost never get published, it left us wondering about Emery’s piece. And sure enough, a review of the Con Ed’s noxious screed showed how far some scribes will go, even at times of great national stress. It also raised the most obvious questions about Emery, and about others just like her.

But a review of Emery’s work also raises some questions about us. Why do we tolerate such ugly lying at a time when we talk about "national unity?" And why have we permitted crackpots like Emery to pollute our discourse for the past several years?

What she said

As we noted in THE HOWLER, many scribes made instant use of September 11’s events. Although there was almost no internal dissent about the War on Terrorism, they began to warn of The Enemy Within—often struggling to find examples of this familiar old type. On September 25, Michelle Malkin showed how far some pundits would go; she wrote an excited article in the Washington Times, warning about our domestic witches. But Malkin had to look long and hard to find examples of these useful players; in fact, she ended up complaining about a California high school student who had been quoted in a small, local paper (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/25/01). Never mind—Malkin penned a nasty piece, explaining what this horrid America-hating surely meant. In short, she used the events of September 11 to produce a cheap partisan screed.

Why don’t we come right out and say it? Michelle Malkin will do and say anything. And clearly, Emery—an outright liar—will do and say anything too.

Malkin flogged a high school kid, but Emery set her sights higher. In her 10/15 piece in the Standard, she didn’t intend to waste her time on The Case of the Soft-Headed Sophomore. Instead, Emery pretended that the New York Times was simply crawling with anti-Americans. She spelled it out in paragraph one. What happened after September 11? "Liberals found that there are other liberals who think the worst thing about war is the flag," Emery said. Then she unfolded a crumpled list, and quickly began naming names:

EMERY (pgh 2): On Sunday, September 30, the New York Times ran three different attacks on Old Glory as being somehow oppressive and sinister. On the op-ed page, there was Maureen Dowd accusing George W. Bush of "playing the flag card" to curb free expression. In the magazine, George Packer explained why the flag wasn’t displayed in his liberal household: "Display wasn’t just politically suspect, it was simply bad taste, sentimental, primitive, sometimes aggressive." And on page one of the opinion section, Blaine Harden explored the dark side of patriotism, of which "the flag, as much as any symbol, embodies the paradox…constitutional rights, which supposedly form the core of patriotism’s appeal, suddenly lost ground to fear." [Emery’s ellipsis]

"None of this was the view of the Democratic political classes, which were out waving flags with the best of them," Emery said. "The war has revealed the deep split in the party between the patriotic and the patronizing, between the large body of elected officials (and those who vote for them) and the noisy group of chattering asses who are elected by no one, and spend their time talking." According to Emery, these chattering asses "define themselves largely by attitude, which is adversarial. They distrust their country, detest conservatives, but detest most of all the tastes of the masses whose interests they claim to protect." In short, there were anti-Americans walking the land—and the New York Times clearly had them. By the way, this piece featured an early use of the childish term, "chattering asses," which the Standard used in pst-9/11 to brand those with whom it disagreed. In times of war, you know what happens—the little boys and girls among us begin revealing their infantile natures.

But let’s summarize what Emery said. She said that, just on September 30 alone, the Times had published three different writers who "thought that the worst thing about war is the flag." Each had "attack[ed] Old Glory as being somehow oppressive and sinister." And why in the world had they done such a thing? "They distrust their country, detest conservatives, but detest most of all the tastes of the masses whose interests they claim to protect." At a time of great national challenge, Emery was calling the witches out of their dens. What a shame she was baldly lying, as she so casually does.

What they said

How absurd was Emery claim? So absurd that the Standard—to its credit—published Packer’s letter, which called its Con Ed a Big Liar. Was it true, what Emery said? Had Packer "attack[ed] Old Glory as being somehow oppressive?" In fact, his piece was headlined "Recapturing the Flag," and it applauded the rebirth of flag-waving patriotism which he’d observed since September 11. When Packer wrote his letter to the Standard, he said, "I’m sure Emery is aware" that his piece was not anti-flag. Indeed, even an idiot like Noemie Emery couldn’t have misunderstood Packer’s theme. Here is Packer’s opening paragraph, and no, we’re not making this up:

PACKER (pgh 1): Sept. 11 made it safe for liberals to be patriots. Among the things destroyed with the twin towers was the notion, held by certain Americans ever since Vietnam, that to be stirred by national identity, carry a flag and feel grateful toward someone in uniform ought to be a source of embarrassment. The force of the blows woke us up to the fact that we are part of a national community. This heightened awareness could be the disaster’s greatest legacy, one that liberals should not fear but learn to use.

As Packer explained in his letter, the snippet Emery cadged from his piece was a description of his childhood home, "in the 1960’s," when "too much contrary history had intervened for patriotism to be a part of my moral education." Did Packer’s piece "attack old Glory?" In fact, Packer clearly applauded the flag’s resurgence post-9/11:

PACKER (6): As flags bloomed like flowers, I found that they tapped emotion as quickly as pictures of the missing. To me, these flags didn’t represent flabby complacence, but alertness, grief, resolve, even love. They evoked fellow feeling with Americans, for we had been attacked together.

Incredibly, the Standard’s readers were told that this piece was an "attack on the flag." How did Emery show her colors after the horror of September 11? By lying about her fellow citizens. By lying about them to other fellow citizens—lying to them right through her teeth.

Of course, a person who will lie about meaning so plain is a person who will lie about anything. And Emery was lying about Maureen Dowd too. On September 30, Dowd’s column was called "We Love the Liberties They Hate." Doesn’t sound like an attack on America, does it? It wasn’t. Here’s how Dowd began:

DOWD (pgh 1): I have studied the Bushes, father and son, for two decades and I can tell you certain things with absolute certainty.

(2) They are devoted to sports, to family and to country, with a sentimentalism about America that sometimes moves them to tears. I accept and admire their patriotism. And I’d like to believe that they accept and admire mine.

(3) My father was an immigrant who went to war for America and, as a police detective here, risked his life protecting presidents and members of Congress for 25 years. In our family, policemen, firemen, the military, the flag and the Statue of Liberty were icons long before Sept. 11.

In her column, Dowd criticized Ari Fleischer for saying that people should "watch what they say" post-September 11. Here at THE HOWLER, we think Fleischer took too much grief for what was (at worst) a minor fumble. But was Dowd conducting an "attack on Old Glory?" She opened by praising Bush’s patriotism; by declaring her own; and by explicitly saying that the American flag had long been an icon in her family. Nothing said later contradicted those values. And what about the quote one found in Emery’s piece, where Dowd accused Bush of "playing the flag card?" Readers, what did you expect from someone like Emery? Noemie Emery’s fictional "quote" does not appear in Maureen Dowd’s column. Emery had simply made up a "quote"—as dissembling pundits of her ilk have often done in the past several years.

Harden’s piece is somewhat different; it’s less a personal rumination than an assessment of certain post-9/11 trends. But how hard did Emery have to work to produce a quote in which Harden "attacks Old Glory?" She was reduced to offering a patched-together, pseudo-"quote" which made little sense as presented. Let’s revisit her "quote" from Harden:

EMERY: [O]n page one of the opinion section, Blaine Harden explored the dark side of patriotism, of which "the flag, as much as any symbol, embodies the paradox…constitutional rights, which supposedly form the core of patriotism’s appeal, suddenly lost ground to fear." [Emery’s ellipsis]

Huh? This "quote" from Harden makes almost no sense. The flag "embodies the paradox" of what? "Constitutional rights lost ground to fear" when? In fact, Emery’s "quote" makes little sense because it’s such a dishonest and ludicrous patch job. Here’s how ludicrous: The first part of the Harden "quote" comes from Harden’s paragraph 9. Meanwhile, the second part of the Harden "quote" comes from his paragraph 2! Laughably, the Harden "quote" is so blatantly confederate that its elements don’t even appear in order—that’s how far Emery had to go to assemble a "quote" which supported her thesis. Harden said nothing which, quoted straight, would have backed Emery’s claims. Was Harden "attacking Old Glory?" Did Harden "think that the worst thing about war is the flag?" Sorry. Here, for example, in his second paragraph, he describes American life post-9/11:

HARDEN (pgh 2): With an ennobling wallop, patriotism has since inspired a deeply felt and classless sense of community. Charitable gifts have skyrocketed, as have sales of flags and stocks of donated blood. Firemen and police officers, who define themselves by sacrifice and service rather than by status and stock options, have become objects of mass adulation. According to some reports, irony has died. New York City, the erstwhile epicenter of selfishness and sin, has been judged in its time of trial and found good by more than 8 out of 10 Americans. Perhaps boundaries were melting between the Red Zone, the conservative heartland that voted for the Republican president, and the Blue Zone, where coastal liberals had clung to doubts about President Bush’s work ethic, his judgment and his intelligence.

"Patriotism’s extraordinary power to expand and constrain the American spirit is hardly new," he writes (pgh 5). "But it seems novel now because so many people—including many among that huge bulge of the population that came of age during and after the Vietnam War—have never lived it themselves." Does it sound like Harden hates the flag? He explicitly mentions flag-waving later:

HARDEN (7): Patriotism seems particularly potent and purely felt among the tens of millions of Americans who came of age after the 1960’s and early 70’s. Unlike many of their parents, they can wave the flag without the mixed feelings of a generation that did its darndest to dodge military service in an unpopular war and, in more than a few cases, burned flags rather than waved them. Unburdened by such memories—the wars of the 90’s were all too short and decisive to stir such passions—Americans under 40 suddenly have a chance to reimagine themselves, to participate selflessly in a world-rousing conflict that might define them as something other than Generation X, Y or Z.

Harden does argue that there is a down side to patriotism. "For all its ennobling kick," he writes, it also "has a history of denying equal protection under the law and making life seem scary." That is the "paradox" to which he refers in the quote which Emery clipped. (For the record, Harden wasn’t talking about "the flag" in that passage; he was talking specifically talking about patriotism, or an offshoot which he calls "exclusionary patriotism.") But, though he ends his piece on a somewhat worried note, he praises President Bush for advancing a brand of patriotism which honors all our American values (most of which Emery so plainly rejects). Harden: "Perhaps most reassuring, for Americans who thirst for a brand of patriotism that elevates their spirits and protects minorities, are President Bush’s repeated calls for ethnic and religious tolerance, along with his highly publicized meetings with Arab, Muslim and Sikh leaders." Did Harden bad-mouth American patriotism? In fact, he pictures Americans "thirsting for [a brand of] patriotism" that expresses all their cherished values. And does it sound like Harden "attacks Old Glory?" Sorry, kids—it made a good tale. But it’s a lie—a tale Emery made up.

Can these be American values?

The Weekly Standard should be commended for publishing Packer’s letter. But it’s easy to see why Packer wrote it, and why the mag felt it had to be printed. Emery egregiously lied about Packer’s piece; made up a quote and lied about Dowd; and presented an utterly ludicrous view of what Harden actually said. (In Harden’s case, she cut-and-pasted a phony "quote" that would flunk any freshman in college.) None of these writers expressed the views which Emery, a crackpot dissembler, described. At a time of massive national stress, Noemie Emery knew just what to do. She told ugly lies about the NYT 3, and she told ugly lies to the Standard’s readers. She needed domestic enemies to hate. And so she just made a few up.

Does the Weekly Standard endorse outright lying? Are slander and lying American values? Such basic questions come to mind after working through Emery’s piece. But of course, Emery has long been an hysteric and liar, and the Standard has dissembled this same way before. In 1999, to cite a remarkable example, their bald dissembling about a New Yorker piece set the tone for the slanders of Gore to come (links below).

A final question—for people like Emery, does the time ever come when they decide to stop lying about fellow citizens? We’re in a time of great national stress, and Emery knew what to do—begin lying. She slandered Packer, Harden and Dowd; she openly lied to the Standard’s subscribers. For people with character problems like Emery, is there ever a time when this sort of thing stops? Or have we reached a time of great national stress when we need to stop it ourselves—like Americans?

Visit our incomparable archives: Sadly, this isn’t a first for the Weekly Standard. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/00—then ask yourself why we put up with this conduct. (For our original reports on the episode in question, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/99, 3/29/99 and 4/12/99.)