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LIMOUSINE LIBERAL BIAS (PART 2)! The Post limned Ted—and we caught a glimpse of those troubling Millionaire Pundit Values:


HOME IMPROVEMENT: It was one of the most remarkable exchanges of Campaign 2000. On October 4, 2000—one day after Bush-Gore Debate I—Ted Koppel appeared on Larry King Live. King asked Koppel about the factual disputes which drove the previous night’s session:

KING: Okay. Were you impressed with this “fuzzy [math],” top 1 percent, 1.3 trillion, 1.9 trillion bit?
King was referring to the “bit” about the size and distribution of the Bush tax cuts—the campaign’s largest budget proposal. Bush and Gore had battled about the shape of the plan—and in his charges of “phony numbers” and “fuzzy math,” Bush had called Gore a Big Liar. The issues involved were stunningly basic. So try to believe that Ted said it:
KOPPEL: You know, honestly, it turns my brains to mush. I can’t pretend for a minute that I’m really able to follow the argument of the debates. Parts of it, yes. Parts of it, I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.
Koppel is paid millions of dollars a year. The facts about the Bush tax cuts had been clear for five months as he spoke (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/24/02). But it “turned his brains to mush,” he said, to try to follow the Bush-Gore debate. In this moment, we saw the stunning insouciance of our insider press corps. In any other professional sector, a practitioner making such a startling admission would be subject to suits for misfeasance.

Simply put, Koppel didn’t seem to give a fig about the most basic issue of the campaign. But in last Thursday’s Washington Post, Matthew Mosk let us see what does float the anchor’s big boat. “[A]t home in Potomac, where he is building a massive riverfront estate on 16 acres of cattle pasture, Ted Koppel is at war with his neighbors,” Mosk wrote. You can read Mosk’s piece for full details, but here’s the whole gig in a nutshell:

MOSK: The anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” and his wife are entering the fifth year of a ferocious land dispute that is headed for court in Montgomery County. The Koppels contend in a lawsuit that their neighbors have ignored an agreement to cap the size of their houses at 10,000 square feet, a tad larger than George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.
“The neighbors have countersued,” Mosk reports, “saying the Koppels have some nerve policing the size of other houses while they are building a Taj Mahal of their own.”

There’s nothing wrong with having Way Too Much Money, but we suspect it affects Pundit Values. Indeed, our minds drifted back to the Koppel-King confab at one point in Mosk’s report. According to Mosk, Koppel wants to prove that his neighbors’ McMansions are just too McBig. And guess what? In this matter, Ted Koppel’s a tiger for detail:

MOSK: For several of those who bought the houses in question and inherited the accompanying legal battle, the fight with the Koppels has been a whopping headache.

Shirley Ballard Miller, who bought a lot near the Koppels in 1998, said her home was one of those cleared by the appellate court, but not before the Koppels’ attorneys crawled around her house with tape measures.

“We were all dumbfounded,” Miller said of the dispute. “No one understood what it was about. Why anyone would care so much about every little inch?”

The budget turned Ted’s brains to mush. Not so his neighbors’ nooks and crannies. He even got to measure their basements, according to one court decree.

Some of you will say we’re being hugely unfair to Ted Koppel. But we think that Mosk may have shown us more signs of those shaky Millionaire Pundit Values.

Can a millionaire pundit corps pursue “liberal” values? In principle, yes, of course, it can; in fact, some of our best friends are “multis.” But the modern press corps’ opinion leaders are almost all multimillionaires. Would any sane person create such a corps—a millionaire pundit corps to serve a democracy? Last week, “liberal” pundit Margaret Carlson called Wellstone’s memorial the “Outrage of the Year.” Does Mosk’s report help give you a clue about where such odd judgments may come from?

Is your press corps driven by liberal bias? Our guess: As long as the corps’ opinion leaders are multimillionaires, that nagging problem of “liberal bias” will likely take care of itself. Read the incomparable reports which follow for a look at Millionaire Pundit Values.

PUNDITS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN: What’s the real shape of our pundit corps’ values? Let’s return to October 2000. A few days after Koppel whiffed on that budget debate, Margaret Carlson guested on Imus and showed us the soul of our press corps. By now, the pundit corps was battering Gore for minor mistakes at that first debate. And—as Koppel had done on the Larry King show—the pundits were glossing large errors by Bush, errors about basic policies. What explained the pundit corps’ choices? Speaking with Imus, Carlson explained why the press had focused on Gore’s “personal” errors, rather than on Bush’s larger misstatements about major policy matters:

CARLSON (10/8/00): Gore’s fabrications may be inconsequential—I mean, they’re about his life. Bush’s fabrications are about our life, and what he’s going to do. Bush’s should matter more but they don’t, because Gore’s we can disprove right here and now…You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get in the weeds and get out your calculator or you look at his record in Texas. But it’s really easy, and it’s fun, to disprove Gore.
“Disproving Gore” was “easy” and “fun!” But Carlson didn’t let it rest. She offered another iteration:
CARLSON: I actually happen to know people who need government and so they would care more about the programs, and less about the things we kind of make fun of…But as sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us. And we can disprove it in a way we can’t disprove these other things.
Slamming Gore was “greatly entertaining.” It was more “fun” than examining Bush’s claims about those government programs.

In fact, Carlson was being a bit disingenuous; there was absolutely nothing hard about “disproving” what Bush had said. In Debate I, Bush grossly misstated his own budget plan, and he grossly misstated his prescription drug offering. (“Just look at your web site,” Gore said.) And Bush accused Gore of “phony numbers” when Gore’s numbers were perfectly accurate. There was nothing “hard” about proving these facts. For reasons only Koppel et al can explain, the press corps just didn’t want to.

But look what Margaret said to Don—and consider today’s Pundit Values. According to Carlson, she “actually happened to know” some people who relied on government programs (like Social Security and Medicare). Therefore, she knew that Bush’s errors were of greater significance than the silly stuff being flogged with Gore. But when we construct a millionaire pundit corps, we’re stuck with Millionaire Pundit Values. Was there any sign that Carlson cared about those people who needed those programs? No—it was more “entertaining” to flog Gore, she said. Years later, we find that another Big Pundit is a tiger for details—if those details concern neighbors’ mansions.

We have no doubt: Most of our pundits are very nice people, and we assume that includes Ted Koppel. But our opinion leaders are multimillionaires—and it’s beginning to show. Carlson defined the pundit corps’ values on Imus; they pursue “sport,” “entertainment” and “fun.” Readers! Have you seen one thing, from that day on, that would lead you to doubt her assessment?

PASS THE PASTA: What determines the way pols get covered? In last week’s Time, Carlson gave us a look. Check out these dim Pundit Values:

CARLSON: The Cheneys spend some nights at official events, like the Kennedy Center Honors, other nights eating off trays in the den and a surprising number of nights casually out and about. The Cheneys have even dined at the mecca of Georgetown limousine liberals, chez Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn. The Cheneys are the most social of the Bushies, asserts Quinn, which she feels accounts for the relatively friendly press coverage the Vice President gets. “It’s harder to trash someone you’ve had pasta with the night before.”
There’s that phrase again: limousine liberals. The Cheneys get favorable treatment, Quinn says, because they eat pasta with pundits.

Speaking of which, compare the upbeat tone of Carlson’s profile (of Lynn Cheney) to her endless trashing of Hillary Clinton. Remember—to Carlson, it was the “Outrage of the Year” when HRC didn’t tackle Tom Harkin as he gave his vile, vile address (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/2/03). As we’ve said, your press corps is spilling with “liberal bias.” Too bad it’s the “limousine” kind.

For the record, Koppel wasn’t the only scribe who sleepwalked through the Bush-Gore debate. In the wake of Bush-Gore Debate I, other pundits rushed to say that their brains were hurting them, also. Here’s Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. In what other sector are major players are so quick to profess total ignorance?

COHEN (10/5/00): Occasionally, [Gore’s] message got lost in the numbers—a cacophony of conflicting claims about Social Security, prescription drug plans and tax breaks. Each candidate had his version of the other’s plans. But as for me, I have not been so confused since high school geometry.
It’s hard to know why Cohen was confused. The factual disputes had been explained in his own paper the previous day, by the capable Glenn Kessler. And the basic facts about the Bush tax cuts had been clear since May 2000. Like Koppel, Cohen was confused for an obvious reason. Like Koppel, Richard Cohen was all confused he preferred not to know the real facts.

Meanwhile, over at Salon, Jake Tapper was bad puzzled also:

TAPPER (10/4/00): Gore was so damn hectoring, so full of himself, so quick to use his intellect for demagoguery so that you never knew what was real and what he had just made up…
You never knew what Gore had made up? If a journalist had studied the issues, he knew. But your modern press corps, with its limousine values, didn’t care about them “government programs”—or about the people who need them. And there’s clearly no charge for complete, howling ignorance, as Tapper continued to show:
TAPPER: “Under Governor Bush’s tax-cut proposal, he would spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent than all of the new spending he proposes for healthcare, prescription drugs and national defense combined,” Gore charged in his second opportunity to speak. It went on and on like that all night.

But beyond calling Gore’s numbers “fuzzy” and “phony,” Bush never really stepped up to refute the charge; largely, one is left to assume, because it’s true.

One was “left to assume” that Gore’s statements were true? The facts on all these matters were clear. But your press corps is driven by limousine liberal bias—the bias of people too well-off to care. In what other sector do experts go out and announce they don’t know what they’re talking about? Understand clearly—your pundits don’t care. Limousine liberals? They’re like that.