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WHAT WOULD E.J. DO! Dionne has been a gutless bastard for roughly the past dozen years: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JANUARY 22, 2007

WHAT WOULD E. J. DO: E. J. Dionne has been a gutless bastard for roughly the past dozen years. This morning, two dispatches in the Washington Post raise an essential ethical question: This time around, in Campaign 08, will Dionne finally show some courage? If the power elites corrupt our process again, what will E. J. do?

The first dispatch in this morning’s Post? That would be Dionne’s own column—a compare-and-contrast about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that is so dry-as-dust, so utterly tedious, that it reads like something David Broder could have written.

The second dispatch? This important report by Howard Kurtz—a report about the kind of disgraceful conduct that influential columnists like Dionne ought to be writing about.

Kurtz describes the recent, disgraceful conduct of various right-wing media hacks—conduct designed to poison the waters about Obama and Clinton. Many readers will be familiar with the material Kurtz discusses, involving the conduct of the Washington Times, the New York Post, and the store-bought hacks of the Fox News Channel. In particular: Does anyone know why the disgraceful Gretchen Carlson is still on national TV in this country? And is there anything a hack like Steve Doocy won’t say—for large pay, of course—on the air?

We’ll strongly suggest that you read this Kurtz report—then read the pabulum spooned by Dionne. But then, Dionne has been playing this game for years—pretending that he doesn’t notice what’s actually deciding our White House elections. In Campaign 2000, for example, the gentleman sat and stared for two years while this sort of thing was done to Gore. Today, Kurtz describes disgraceful conduct aimed at Obama and Clinton—and Dionne twiddles, kills time and stares.

Of course, for well-paid gentlemen pundits like Dionne, silence can be quite attractive. They get to keep their well-paid jobs. They get to keep their high social standing. They get to appear on national TV—and you get your interests chewed up in the process! Dionne has been a coward for years. It’s time the gentleman got off his ass and talked about the actual ways our press elites corrupt our elections.

E. J. Dionne is plainly smart. He claims to be decent—a caring, liberal Christian. This morning, Kurtz describes the kind of misconduct which Dionne has avoided discussing for years. In silence, he sat out the War Against Gore; this morning, he sits in silence again. Our question: If his insider cohort corrupted your democracy, what would E. J. do?

OTHER SUCH SILENT ONES: Mark Shields; Al Hunt.

SPINNING HILLARY: Poor boy! Yesterday, Hillary Clinton dared to appear at a New York City health clinic. But Patrick Healy, forced to attend the event, could see right through it! Try to believe that he wrote this for the New York Times—and that an “editor” put it in print:
HEALY (1/22/07): The visit to Ryan/Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center, which is just blocks west of Broadway (and is named after two neighborhoods it serves), was highly scripted political theater.
The Clinton event was “highly scripted!” But then, Healy should know a “script” when he sees one! Readers, every time major candidates do public events, the events are, in some sense, “highly scripted.” It’s only a question of when a journalist chooses to put such a phrase into print. And in the case of Hillary Clinton, Healy knows his cohort’s prize narratives. When Clinton does it, it’s “highly scripted.” Those are the rules of this game.

So yes, readers, here we go again, with hacks like Healy disgorging their scripts. And Healy’s the lesser offender today; at the Post, the hapless Anne Kornblut—their newest hire—typed a worse piece about this event. It would be hard to convey how daft the piece was; Kornblut tells us, again and again, how the Clinton event “seemed” and “felt” and what the occasion “suggested” and “signaled.” But then, Kornblut is daft beyond compare. At the end, she actually wrote this:
KORNBLUT (1/22/07): Though it was her first appearance as a presidential candidate, the occasion was organized by her Senate staff and announced through her Senate office, suggesting that she will not run away from her perch but rather use it to her advantage...

If anything, Clinton seemed to be following the mold of her last Senate campaign, in which she worked methodically to raise money and build support. Throughout that campaign, which cost her more than $30 million to win 67 percent of New York, Clinton emphasized smaller appearances, especially upstate, appearing with groups of voters rather than at massive, flashy rallies.

Her event on Sunday felt like an extension of that campaign—except for the context.
Clinton is trying “to raise money and build support?” Readers, is there any candidate on the face of the earth who doesn’t try to do these things? No, but Kornblut expertly sniffed these themes out when Clinton appeared at the clinic.

Of course, nothing about yesterday’s event had anything to do with raising money. But “big money” is a Standard Script about Clinton. So the Post’s newest scribe—more scripted than Healy—managed to work the theme in.

WE DON’T NEED YOUR STINKING FACTS: By the way, how old are Camilla Harden and Olivia Harden, who appeared at yesterday’s health care event? Who knows? Those, of course, would be issues of fact—and “reporters” like Healy and Kornblut do spin.

Result? In today’s Times, the girls are 4 and 2. In the Post, they’re 3 and 1. But who knows? Maybe Kornblut was simply explaining how old the two girls “seemed” and “felt.”

DISCOURSE ON CRAZY: How bizarre have your millionaire pundits become—the people to whom Dionne gives cover? By now, nothing Chris Matthews says should be surprising. But on Sunday morning, NBC’s Matthews moderated a panel discussion, “The Carter presidency; the press and the presidency,” at the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. Former president Jimmy Carter sat in the audience with his wife, former first lady Rosalynn Carter; the event aired live on C-SPAN. (Click here, then scroll down. Matthews sounds off around 43:30.) Displaying his standard bad judgment and his ugly bad taste, Matthews said this, responding to a comment by former Carter honcho Jody Powell:

MATTHEWS (1/21/07): You know, I thought one of the smart things President Carter did as a candidate...was, every time President Carter won a primary, instead of standing on a platform with a bunch of sweaty, yelling people—you know, the scene with the Democratic Party usually, a bunch of crazy people yelling—and you had to have the full potpourri of Democrats present on that stage or someone would be ticked at you—you would meet in a hotel room and it was amazing. You’d sit down one-on-one, it was a unilateral, with some anchor or reporter, a serious reporter. And every time you saw a primary, you’d stay up till 11:30 to see who won, and you’d see the president, the candidate, sitting there very calmly talking about the future of the country.
“A bunch of crazy people yelling.” Matthews’ comments were simply incredible. According to Matthews, you’d see Candidate Carter talking calmly instead the “usual scene” with his party. And just what was—what is—that usual scene? With the Democrats, you usually have “a bunch of sweaty, yelling people,” Matthews said—“a bunch of crazy people yelling.” On Sunday, Matthews explained this for the world to see, as President Carter looked on.

This conduct was absolutely disgraceful—but it’s par for the course with Matthews and the millionaire class to whom the Dionnes give their cover. By now, the store-bought tools of ruling power routinely speak this way about Dems. For example, here was Matthews’ frequent guest, Howard Fineman, describing Al Gore just last week:
FINEMAN (1/18/07): At least [Obama] was not like that crazy Al Gore, who had been the ultimate goody-goody but who had grown a beard, made a film and dropped out to attend the School Without Walls.
By now, “crazy” is the virtual default term when this gang describes Dems. (Dems are also described as “sweaty” and “bearded.”) But once again: According to Matthews, Democrats are “a bunch of sweaty, yelling people”—“a bunch of crazy people yelling.”

Several things should be said about this. And then, a large question must be asked.

First: Again, it should come as no surprise to see Matthews making such comments. He has trashed Democrats and their White House candidates for many years, often in the crudest terms imaginable. He has easily been one of the leading players in the coarsening of the American discourse—with his rudest, stupidest jibes almost always directed at Dems.

Second, something else should come as no surprise. It shouldn’t be surprising to see Matthews’ panel sit silently by as he makes these comments. In particular, two leading hacks of the millionaire press corps sat on this panel—Jon Meacham and Judy Woodruff. Neither said a word about Matthews’ comments. Neither did the other journalist panelists—ABC reporter Jim Wootten and former CNN chairman Tom Johnson. Under the current rules of this game, you can say any goddamn thing you want—as along as it’s said about Dems.

Third: Let’s understand what Matthews meant. When he speaks about sweaty, yelling, crazy people, he meant working people and African-Americans. These words are often used to savage Dems by our modern Millionaire Pundits. But yes—as a general matter, this is what these people mean, and it’s silly to pretend that it isn’t.

Fourth: Make no mistake. Matthews has been allowed to persist in this conduct because the scrub-faced boys at our “liberal journals” want to appear on Hardball (and on other NBC/MSNBC programs). To cite one especially gruesome juncture, Matthews’ crude conduct during Campaign 2000 was nothing short of a journalistic disgrace. But to this day, you’ve never seen it discussed because Matthews is a powerful player—and because the bright young lads at our “liberal journals” want to be big players too. Today, scrub-faced boys like Lizza, Crowley and Beinart politely perform on MSNBC programs. So does Milbank, who made his way from TNR to the Washington Post in 1999 without saying a word about Matthews’ odd conduct in the campaign, which he had been covering. They appear on these shows because they’ve agreed not to notice the conduct of NBC’s “cable guy.” And of course, another Hardball guest has agreed not to notice or speak. His name is E. J. Dionne.

Finally, a question must be asked: Does Matthews have some sort of emotional or substance problem? Just last month, Matthews suddenly disappeared from his nightly program for his latest unexplained hospital stay. The press corps is routinely mum on this subject; only on Imus do we hear veiled remarks about the way Matthews is (paraphrasing) overworked and driving himself too hard. But Matthews’ conduct has been so erratic, for so long, that liberals must finally ask if something is wrong—unless we plan to let this man’s conduct persist for the rest of our days.

Liberals and Dems have stood by for a decade while Matthews engaged in this sort of conduct. And don’t worry—this conduct will only get worse, more pointed, as Campaign 08 rumbles on (more examples to follow, later this week). Is something wrong with Matthews? If he has an emotional problem ,we’d like to see him get some help. But then, we liberals and Democrats have a problem too—our willingness to tolerate this sort of abuse. Readers, you can’t allow your party (and its leaders) to keep being called “crazy,” even as a former president watches. Has E. J. Dionne been a gutless bastard? So have we, all these long years.

THE OLDEST STORY: They’re paid millions of dollars. They live on Nantucket. They’re allowed to hang at the club with Jack Welsh. And they tend to say that Dems are “crazy!” This is humanity’s oldest story. It’s time we made “liberals” discuss it.

For notes about the Nantucket set, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/7/05. Yes, this is the world’s oldest story—and, for reasons that are perfectly obvious, it rarely gets discussed in our press.