MONDAY, JANUARY 12, 2004
ANOTHER BROTHER: Howard Kurtz provides an amazing coda to the fight over David Brooks column. In this mornings Post, he tells readers the tale. Heres his amazing account:
KURTZ: New York Times columnist David Brooks was poking fun last week at those who see some of his friends as part of a dark neocon cabal. He defended the people labeled neocons (con is short for conservative and neo is short for Jewish).What an astonishing summary! According to Kurtz, Brooks was just poking fun in his columnthe column which yelled anti-Semite at critics of Bush from its start right through to its finish. And note the word the in paragraph two. Post readers are led to believe that Brooks joke was his sole religious reference. Was Brooks foolish to write the column in the way he did? Thanks to Kurtz, the Posts misused readers wont have to know what was actually in Brooks piece.
Can one man type another mans script more faithfully than Kurtz has typed for his Brooks? As we noted, Brooks has many press corps brothers. Baldly misleading the Posts misused readers, Howard Kurtz adds his name to the list.
Meanwhile, after Brooks nasty piece, Maureen Dowds lunacy in yesterdays Times almost served as comic relief. We devote this mornings HOWLER to this latest full-moonery. Is there anythinganything on earthwhich Gail Collins wont stoop to publish?
SERLINGS REVENGE: If memory serves (and it may serve somewhat poorly), there was once a Twilight Zone episode which went something like this:
DOWD: Can we trust a man who muffs his mufti?If Dowd broke her arm, would wires emerge? We cut-and-paste, you decide.
Dowds column drew on Fridays brilliant piece by ace Times reporter Edward Wyatt. Front-page headline: Seeking Womens Votes, Clark Changes His Style. Wyatt delivered the dry goods:
WYATT (pgh 1): Gen. Wesley K. Clark has begun to show a softer side.Did we note that this appeared on page one? The efforts are intended to lessen a potential vulnerability for the general, Wyatt patiently explained to the rubes. Even as he is rising in national and New Hampshire polls, his advisers say women significantly trail men in support for the four-star general. For the record, at no point did Wyatt say how he knew that Clarks troubling sweater was aimed at the ladies. (Nor did he say why a reader should care.) But a photo displayed the offending garment. Gen. Wesley K. Clark displaying a casual look in New Hampshire, the inane caption said.
Yes, that photo appeared on page one. But then, Wyatt isnt the only Times scribe offering helpful observations about wardrobe. On December 23, David Halbfinger penned an astounding news report in which he helped his readers see what a big fake John Kerry really is. How phony is the Bay State bombastic? Wyatt recorded the endless strange things the solon intoned during his intricately choreographed swing across Iowa. And speaking of intricate choreography, every anecdote in Halbfingers report seemed designed to display Kerrys fakeness. According to Halbfinger, Kerry was uncomfortable talking to 3-year-old children; offended their teacher by asking rude questions; betrayed her trust by repeating her comments; then struck disturbingly phony poses as a campaign commercial was shot. Eventually, though, it had to happen. Wyatt psyched out Kerrys clothing:
HALBFINGER: [I]f Mr. Kerry was hoping to win votes for his trouble, the early going was not exactly heartening. His first stop was in Davenport, where he asked some carpenters what they would change in America if they could change one thingHa ha ha ha ha ha ha! Kerrywearing preppy clothes from L. L. Beanwas discussing the needs of working people! In context, only a fool could have read this passage without grasping Halbfingers obvious message. Dowd, of course, would soon place Clark at that troubling prep palace too:
DOWD: On Thursday, eight reporters and three minicams trailed the general as he sweater-shopped at L. L. Bean in Concord, N.H. Chris Suellentrop filed a fashion dispatch in Slate that the Democratic candidate tried on a plain, green, wool crew neck sweater.Will scribes ever stop their fashion reporting? Dowds column went on and on, revisiting alleged fashion flubs of the past 25 years. Maureen Dowd is wired for wardrobe. After Brooks, it was comic relief.
SALT OF THE EARTH: Will scribes ever stop their fashion reporting? On December 26, Paul Krugman suggested some New Years resolutions for journalists. Will the coverage of the election reflect its seriousness? he asked. Here was his first suggestion:
KRUGMAN: Dont talk about clothes. Al Gores endorsement of Howard Dean was a momentous event: the man who won the popular vote in 2000 threw his support to a candidate who accuses the president of wrongfully taking the nation to war. So what did some prominent commentators write about? Why, the fact that both men wore blue suits.I dont know why some journalists seem so concerned about politicians clothes, Krugman wrote. But unless youre a fashion reporter, obsessing about clothes is an insult to your readers intelligence.
Readers, Krugman is humanthe salt of the earth. He never saw that old Twilight Zone episode. Hes a national gift, but he still doesnt know. Note to Krugman: Yo, Paul! They arent human.
THE CASE OF BILL BRADLEYS OLD SHOES: Are they pod people? Hard-wired? HAL on the fritz? You can pick the allusion that suits you. But our journalists love to talk about clothing, and theyre programmed to make candidates clothing point to conclusions they have already reached. Did Kerrys duck boots show he was phony? Did Clarks duck boots suggest reinvention? In the last presidential campaign, scribes reviewed other candidates shoes. And wouldnt you know it? Because these candidates were held in good favor, their shoes seemed to showcase good character.
How inane is the Washington press corps? Lets travel back to the fall of 1999, when shoes really did make the man.
In September 1999, for example, the Times Frank Bruni was pandering hard to his love interest, White House hopeful George Bush. The brilliant reporter observed Bushs shoesand the shoes seemed to showcase Bushs brilliance. No, we arent making this news report up. Yes, this appeared in the Times:
BRUNI (9/14/99) (pgh 1): When Gov. George W. Bush of Texas first hit the Presidential campaign trail in June, he wore monogrammed cowboy boots, the perfect accessory for his folksy affability and casual self-assurance.Good God! Inanity, thy name is the New York Times! But what did Bruni see in this candidates shoes? Had Bush changed his shoes to appeal to New Englanders? Was Bush making himself over, reinventing or faking? No, Bruni was pandering hard to Bush, as he would do right through Election Day. So Bushs shoes showed how brilliant he was! The boots had been the perfect accessory. But those loafers were quite pleasing too.
Of course, George Bush wasnt the only pol whose shoes seemed to showcase his skill and good character. In the fall of 1999, the press corps was pandering hard to Bill Bradley. So they hammered Gore for his troubling clothes, and peddled tales about Bradleys footwear. In the November 15 Newsweek (released on November 8), Howard Fineman typed up the script:
FINEMAN: While Gore changes his attire almost manicallyfrom Carnaby Street to Lands End in a dayBradleys showy obliviousness to fashion is a strategy in and of itself. Campaigning in New Hampshire, he reluctantly bought a pair of shoes. They were as similar as he could find to the ones he was already wearing. They were the first dress shoes Bradley had purchased in a quarter century.Wait a minute! Bradley hadnt bought new shoes in twenty-five years? Could any human believe such nonsense? No, but many pundits didat the Washington Post, for example:
MARY MCGRORY (11/4/99) (pgh 1): The debate coaches they chose for their encounter at Dartmouth tell you pretty much all you need to know about their campaigns. Vice President Al Gore picked a feminist philosopher, an erstwhile columnist for trendy George magazine named Naomi Wolf. Former senator Bill Bradley chose the Democrats legendary horse-whisperer, David Burke, onetime staff sage for Teddy Kennedy and later news chief for two networksBradley bought his first pair of shoes in 25 years? No human could believe such a tale. But pundits typed it again and again. It showed how authentic the challenger wasand it played off the hated Gores fakeness.
By the way, how did Mary know that Bill had worn the same broughams for twenty-five years? Fineman explained that part of the tale. They were the first dress shoes Bradley had purchased in a quarter century, he wrote. How does the world know that? [Bradley] explained it, at length, to reporters.
DONT MISS THE POINT: All events confirm the corps preconceived notions. When Clark went to Bean, it made him a phony. When Bradley drug scribes to Alecs Shoes, it showed how authentic he is.
THAT FIRST DEBATE: Bradley reluctantly bought his new shoes on October 28, the morning after the first Gore-Bradley debate. In that session, the Dems staged a detailed discussion of health care. The topic ranked high among voter concerns. But heres how McGrory began her column on October 31:
MCGRORY (10/31/99) (pgh 1): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tieand black boots.By the way, who was right in the health care discussion? Setting the stage for much that would follow, McGrory never quite bothered to say. She did manage this by the end of her column:
MCGRORY: The evening ended with deep satisfaction among all Democrats. The party had put on display two politicians of high caliber, either one capable of taking on any Republican. They had a meeting that is exactly what people have been saying they want: civil, substantive and without cheap shots.Without cheap shots! After her ludicrous shots about Gores ugly clothes! Could human pundits type this way? At THE HOWLER, were not sure what to tell you.
GORE-IN-BOOTS: Oh yesthe press examined Gores shoes too. Weve reported this story in some detail; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03. There are many mordant chuckles to be had from this startling tale. But just rememberthese people arent human.
WHY THEY RANT ABOUT THOSE TONES: Not being human herself, Dowd is instinctively troubled by earth tones. Al Gore sprouted earth tones in 2000, she robotically typed in yesterdays piece, hoping heathery brown sweaters and khakis would warm him up.
No one has ever really explained the thinking behind the corps earth tone obsession. Why exactly did it seem strange to see Gore dressed in sweaters and khakis? And why did pundits keep insisting that Naomi Wolf had told Gore he should don them? Weve told that story in some detail (links below). But Dowd has a connection to the earth tone script that is minor, but well worth recalling.
A bit of background: Wolfs connection to the Gore campaign was first reported by Time, in a story released on October 31, 1999. The story had been carefully researchedand it didnt say a word about earth tones! By the way: Like most humans, Gore had been wearing the troubling tones since he began his campaign in March. This is abundantly clear in the published record, as the link below makes abundantly clear.
But so what? The morning after the Time report, Ceci Connolly got busy. In the Post, she cited a conversation with Dick Morris, in which Morris speculated (Connollys word) that Wolf had told Gore to wear those troubling tones. By that afternoon, the corps was reporting this speculation as fact, and worrying hard about its significance. Wolf flatly denied that she had ever given Gore advice about his clothes. No evidence ever contradicted her statement. But so what! Earth tones were now a fact-for-life. Over the course of the next thirteen months, they were endlessly flogged as a troubling fact which revealed troubling parts of Gores character. And yes, this really did happen.
Heres where the inhuman Dowd comes in. Dowd was eager to peddle the tale: Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones. But she didnt want to tell her readers that the whole thing was just a speculation by Morris. So, like many others, Dowd knew what to do. Maureen Dowd fixed up the facts:
DOWD (11/3/99) (pgh 1): I will say this in Naomi Wolfs favor: Youve got to respect a woman who gets a vice president to pay her a salary higher than his own.Sorry. Time hadnt said a word about earth tones; the whole thing had come from the Morris speculation. But many others quickly said that Time had reported the earth tones foofaw. Clarence Page typed it, for example, and Howell Raines typed it up too. Heres the start of a Times editorial:
TIMES EDITORIAL (11/2/99): Life would be simple for presidential candidates if they did not have advisers. Vice President Gore is the latest to discover this, thanks to the amusing report in Time magazine that he is being urged to quit behaving like a beta male, to wear earth-toned suits and to look for opportunities to bash President Clinton, whose alpha maleness Mr. Gore has to conquer. It is, as we have been saying, going to be a great campaign year.No, Time didnt mention the troubling tones. But Time sounded credibleand Dick Morris didntso scribes like Raines knew what to do. Loving the nonsense, they lied in your faces. Is Howell human? We dont know how to tell.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: The idiocy churned by these life-forms is endless. For our fullest account of Gore-and-the-tones, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/03 (part IV of our SPINNING WOLF series). To recall the way Brian Williams and Fineman assailed Gores polo shirts, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/02. To review the corps take on Gores troubling boots, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03. Meanwhile, how hard did Bruni pander to Bush? At one point, Times headlines compared Bush to Puck! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/18/00 and 5/3/00 for a rundown on Brunis early clowning.
PAUL AND SULLY, SITTIN IN A TREE: Meanwhile, how about the good news here? Because of Dowds buffoonery in yesterdays Times, the lion has finally laid down with the lamb! In his eponymous web site, Andrew Sullivan properly scolded the Times addled scribe. And he did so by quoting Paul Krugman!
So Gail Collins really had quite a week. First, she published Brooks ugly rant. Then she printed full-moonery so extreme that Sully ended up citing Krugman! Can such an editor be of this earth? She has many months left to show us.