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Daily Howler: When Kornblut spun the Clinton event, we thought of the late Johnny Apple
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SPIN THE CHILDREN WELL! When Kornblut spun the Clinton event, we thought of the late Johnny Apple: // link // print // previous // next //

IN ONE WAY, THINGS ARE BETTER:It’s simply amazing, the number of narratives reporters and pundits are already driving against Candidate Clinton. Hillary Clinton is unelectable. (Although she leads McCain in the polls!) Hillary Clinton is cold and inhuman. Clinton’s divisive—a “polarizing figure.” And of course, the treasured central claim, the one they’ve used against Dems for a decade: Clinton is insincere, fake, phony. Watching TV pundits laugh at Big Dems—and watching “reporters” apply these narratives—it’s easy to think that Campaign 08 could become a journalistic nightmare on the scale of Campaign 2000.

But in one major way, things are much better. Already, bogus claims about Democratic candidates have been debunked—in the mainstream press! Congratulations to the Washington Post and CNN for going after the gong-show claim that Barack Obama attended a madrassa, for example. Meanwhile, turmoil is spreading about John Solomon’s puzzling report in the Washington Post concerning the sale of John Edwards’ home. Post ombudsman Deborah Howell has already challenged the story on her web site. Apparently, she will address the issue in this Sunday’s column.

In each case, a bogus or shaky claim has been quickly debunked or challenged. Simply put, this never happened in the astonishing two-year war the press corps waged against Candidate Gore—the war which sent George Bush to the White House. We’re looking at a massive change in the way our politics works.

Think back to the gong-show tales that were invented about Candidate Gore in the first half of 1999 alone. Al Gore said he invented the Internet! And: Al Gore said he inspired Love Story! And: Al Gore grew up in a fancy hotel! (In some news orgs: Gore was raised at the Ritz!) And: Al Gore has made “delusional” statements about growing up on his family’s farm! In all cases, the press corps was full of experienced journalists who knew that these claims were bogus, false or grossly misleading. And all these people chose to stay silent as these nasty tales were used to build a Great Theme: Al Gore is a liar (just like Bill Clinton)! Your “liberal” journals kept their mouths shut; so did your major “liberal columnists.” All of them disgraced themselves—and they all sent Bush to the White House.

This week, we see how easily major journalists can challenge false/misleading claims about candidates. In 1999 and 2000, your major journalists chose not to do this as their cohort staged its crackpot War Against Gore. And yes: Major scribes like Dionne, Hunt and Shields played the role of the gutless bastard; they simply refused to tell the public about the ways they were being misled. This week, we see how easy it is for their kind to perform their normal function. But we’ve yet to hear an explanation for what occurred during Campaign 2000. And as a general matter, our liberal elites still prefer to pretend that this episode didn’t occur. Amazingly, we still refuse to tell the public about the endless ways they’ve been misled.

Liberal web sites have played key roles in the debunkings which happened this week. But we have a long way to go in perfecting our roles in this evolving process. In particular, the spins against Candidate Clinton have been remarkably vibrant at some major newspapers, and among TV pundits. We badly need to teach ourselves how to take on these well-entrenched spins.

The mainstream press corps had lost its mind by the spring of 1999. Today, its work has improved—but only slightly. This week’s debunking have been encouraging. But we have a lot of work to do. We have to teach ourselves how to resist this cohort’s ongoing instincts.

Special report: A bad new idea!

PART 2—SPIN THE CHILDREN WELL: Over the weekend, an idea occurred to us for the first time; the press corps’ coverage of Campaign 08 may turn out to be even worse than the coverage of Campaign 2000. On the Chris Matthews Show, the panel of pundits were laughing hard at all the dumb-ass Major Dem hopefuls—and in the pages of the New York Times, we were told that Hillary Clinton had engaged in “highly scripted political theater” when she tried to talk about expanding health care for kids. Yep! The boys and girls of our mainstream “press corps” were partying like it was 1999. They had familiar themes down cold—and like the well-trained hacks they are, they were applying them skillfully.

Ah yes, Campaign 2000! As we read Anne Kornblut’s absurd report in the Washington Post about the Clinton health care event, we recalled the way Candidate Bush was covered in similar settings. In 1999, the Texan staged frequent events with children, just as Clinton did this Sunday. But omigod! The way these respective events got covered gives us a bit of a look at the soul of the modern press.

How does your modern press corps work? Consider the way Candidate Bush was covered when he staged events with kids—and compare it to the treatment dished out this week to Candidate Clinton.

On Sunday, Clinton went to a New York City health clinic—and Kornblut “reported” the event in the Post. If you read deep down in her piece, you finally learned why Clinton was there. “Clinton announced that she and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) will sponsor legislation to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to include more middle-class families,” Kornblut wrote. But uh-oh! You had to read to paragraph 16 (out of 20) to get that scrap of information. At the start of her piece, Kornblut had used her vast analytical skills for a vastly different purpose. Mind-reading brilliantly, she told us what Clinton was trying to “signal” this day:

KORNBLUT: Instead of campaign rhetoric, Clinton focused on the specific theme of health care for children, locking hands with a little girl who joined her onstage. In so doing, she signaled that she will use her uniqueness as a woman—and more specifically as a mother—to stake out her ground in the crowded presidential field at a time when Democrats across the board are putting children at the center of their imagery and message.
That statement is spectacularly silly, as will perhaps become more clear. Sad, then, to see Mickey Kaus approvingly quote this brainless mind-reading. “It’s not clear that Mommyism is the best antidote to Hillary’s image as a scold,” the K-man dumbly wrote. But so it went when one major Dem showed up in a roomful of kids.

How different it was for Candidate Bush! In Campaign 2000, as some will recall, the Texan staged a string of photo-ops with a long string of minority children. The photos appeared in major papers, complete with pleasing captions. Did that mean that Bush “was signal[ing] that he would use his uniqueness as a father of twins to stake out his ground in the crowded presidential field?” No reporter said such a dumb thing—and one big reporter gushed, fawned and pandered about Bush’s vast skill with kids.

That major reporter was the late Johnny Apple. In August 1999, Apple wrote a lengthy “political memo” about Bush for the New York Times; in it, he pandered, gushed, fawned and slobbered about Bush’s skills on the stump. (Headline: “A Gregarious Bush Warms to Politicking.”) How Bush-friendly was Apple this day? Try this: After praising the “enthusiasm” with which Bush “plunges into crowds,” he offered this catty comparison:
APPLE (8/21/99): Nobody would ever mistake him for Vice President Gore.
Hiss-spit! Mee-ow!! And that was Apple’s entire third paragraph! Once again, the New York Times was showing the world its vile, pervasive liberal bias! One week later, Frank Bruni took over the Bush beat at the Times—and the fawning to Bush really started.

But land-o-goshen! Apple had especially wonderful things to say about the masterful way Bush dealt with those kids! With apologies for the length of this excerpt, here’s the way the New York Times acted when Bush staged events with children. Perhaps you can start to glimpse the different ways the press corps now treats the two parties:
APPLE (8/21/99): His style is an amalgam of East and Southwest, Yale and the oil patch. Call him the Madras Cowboy.

Watch him with a classroom full of second graders in Jefferson Parish, near New Orleans. After a relaxed discussion of how caterpillars turn into butterflies, a youngster asked him why the sun had a smiling face. Beats me, the Governor replied; why does the chicken cross the road? Well, his interlocutor said, the cow crosses the road to go to the mooovies.

Good television, of course, but something more as well: it gave the Governor a chance to promote the school, Jefferson Elementary, as a prime example of the kind of public-private partnership he wants to see more of—in this case, Lockheed Martin and Shell Oil helping a school set up a computer laboratory and Internet connections.

Watch him, again, reading with a group of mostly black inner-city 6- and 7-year-olds at the West End Center for Youth here. When "hop" and "top" sound the same, Mr. Bush asked, what's that called?


"Right. Good.”

I have two daughters the same age, he said, his hands resting on the shoulder of a tiny child with red and yellow pony-tail holders braided into her hair; what are they called?


"Right. Great."

He told them that his dog, Spot, had been born in the White House, and assured them that, no, he had not arrived in Roanoke by limousine.

By the time he finished, Mr. Bush had worked in a pair of plugs: one for reading as the key to the American Dream, another for more Federal aid to after-school facilities wholly or partly sponsored by church groups, as is the West End Center.

Then he stopped for a chat on the playground with some older youths, and as he walked back to his van, Sam Sapp, lanky and 13, walked with him, an arm draped fraternally across the Governor's shoulder.

Ironic, isn’t it? That such wanton pandering had been occasioned by the press corps’ alleged aversion to blow jobs? But so it went as Apple pandered about Bush’s vast brilliance with kids. And no. No one used that exchange about twins to type the idiot sentence we’ve offered above. No one composed such dumb-ass thoughts about what Bush was “signaling.”

Of course, if Kornblut had wanted to do so, she could have written a story like that about Clinton. She could have praised the way the brilliant Dem used the event to promote her policy ideas. She could have described the way some kid had “an arm draped fraternally across the Senator's shoulder.” But Kornblut had a different novel in mind—a familiarly dark and unflattering novel. So you can forget all the warm-and-fuzzies. Believe it or not, here’s how Kornblut began her story this day:
KORNBLUT (1/22/07): Arriving at Sunday's event more than half an hour later than planned, Clinton was, for all her understatedness, met with an explosion of flashbulbs and a crowd of bewildered families who had been invited to meet her.

Dozens of camera crews crammed the back of the overheated room. Japanese broadcasters did live shots from the crowd. Secret Service agents kept close watch as staff members corralled irritated photographers in a pen. Frantic members of the health center's staff tried to make room for the invited guests, who were pressed against the walls without seats. Small children squirmed and cried.
Good God! Clinton was late. The room was too hot. The families were bewildered. The photographers were corralled (and irritated). Invited guests were forced to stand—and, of course, the children were crying. If you don’t yet understand such imagery yet, we haven’t worked with you long enough. Simple story: Apple was trying to pander to Bush. Kornblut was taking down Clinton.

Sadly, “reporters” can write any novel they please, if their editors give them permission to showcase their vast brilliance as English prose stylists. That piece by Kornblut was political porn—but then, so was that nonsense by Apple. As libs and Dems, we have to learn how to make such “reporting” stop.

CHUMMY PUNCHES ON THE ARM: In 1999, the mainstream press corps had lost its mind over Bill Clinton’s troubling blow jobs—and they were aggressively punishing Gore, his utterly vile vice president. As part of the deal, they gushed over Bush. Here’s more of the consummate nonsense as Apple praised Bush’s skills on the stump. Yes, this appeared in the Times:

APPLE (8/21/99): Nothing seemed to faze Mr. Bush in the slightest as he moved slowly past market stalls stacked high with peaches, pole beans, Japanese eggplants and Silver Queen corn, the bounty of late summer in the Virginia Piedmont. After he had spent more than an hour shaking hands, posing for photographs, chatting about the military and the local museum and the weather, kissing a baby swathed in pink (and a grandmother or two as well), complimenting Gina Thomas on her "good-looking" family of four children and signing a lot of autographs, a man handed him a $100 bill and asked him to sign that.

"You must be doing pretty darn well," Mr. Bush said.

"Not as well as you and your father," the man replied, and the Governor, laughing, gave him a chummy punch on the upper arm.
Bush gave the man a chummy punch on the arm—and Apple gave a string of such punches to Bush. Things were very different, of course, when Apple did his corresponding profile of Gore. Once again, you’ll have to trust us. Yes, this appeared in the Times:
APPLE (10/11/99): Mr. Gore learned a certain rural Southern reticence from his father, who preceded him as a senator from Tennessee...Now, he says, he is trying to "let it all hang out." The very phrase sounds unnatural coming from a man whose shoes are always polished, whose hair is always combed, whose shirts and suits are always crisply pressed. All? He doesn't even let his shirt-tail hang out.
Isn’t that astounding? Surely, Gore became the first White House hopeful criticized for combing his hair! But no, there were no “chummy punches” as Apple punished Clinton’s vice president. This consummate nonsense went on—and on—until they had Bush in the White House.

Let’s say it again. The national press corps had lost its mind by the time of Campaign 2000. But Anne Kornblut’s “news report” about the crying kids in the heated room starts to suggest the same kooky syndrome.

Note to Kornblut: Next time, dumb-ass, just shut the fuck up. Just tell us what Clinton has said.

Note to liberals: You’ll have to name-call, shout and complain to make them stop this reflexive misconduct. And we’ll have to know what to complain about. More on that tomorrow.