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DAOU AND DOWD! Peter Daou makes good, clear sense—and a Major Dem gets in the Hundt: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JANUARY 26, 2006

MORE ON HAMSHER: For the record, let’s clear up one point about Jane Hamsher and the Pitchfork Brigade (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/25/06). We think it’s great that Hamsher is willing to fight—and that she knows how to organize people to do it. For years, we’ve complained that the foppish fellows at our liberal journals refuse to challenge the mainstream press. We think it’s great that Hamsher will do it. It would be thoroughly dumb to think otherwise.

On the other hand, it matters how we fight. We’re old enough to remember the day when loudmouth Yippies came to be seen as the heart of liberal defiance—and liberals spent the next thirty years trying to recover from the damage. If we’re going to fight, we have to fight smart—to win. We hope that the Pitchforks will do it.

DAOU AND DOWD: As others have done, we’ll direct you to this important post by Peter Daou, in which he attempts to explain “the methodology of the story-telling media.” It’s very hard to explain the way the press corps has worked in recent years. Their GroupThink is deeply counterintuitive, and for average voters, it’s hard to observe (you have to read many sources before you can start to divine it). Meanwhile, their sheer inanity is also counterintuitive (Matt Lauer example below), and therefore hard for most people to fathom.

Daou discusses the selling of “narratives;” we have long called them “scripts.” We were once again struck by the strength of those scripts when we read this post by Reed Hundt, courtesy of a Kevin Drum link. Hundt criticizes Maureen Dowd for recent belittling comments about Gore—and for her endless belittling of Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000. But readers, how potent are the corps’ master scripts? Fairly soon, in the comments, a Dowd-detractor wrote this:

COMMENT: Al Gore got hung up over what image he should project and how to project it. In all other realms, he has a record of intelligence and competence for which it is difficult to find an equivalent. There is an element in the electorate that spans both major parties, the Modish Bourgeois, who require candidates who can cater to their intellectual foppery. Al Gore has just too much substance.
But “Al Gore got hung up over what image he should project” is one of those potent press corps “narratives,” endlessly peddled by the press until even Gore-defenders believed it. The very next comment drove home this point. The commenter cited that highlighted statement, then offered a judgment about it:
COMMENT: Al Gore got hung up over what image he should project and how to project it.

Dowd angers Hundt and Somerby, because on some level they know that she understood Gore's campaigning weakness and thus, his electability. He never seemed comfortable in his skin, and Dowd pointed it out.

For me, the first time Gore charged up on stage in his painted-on blue jeans, Bradley had my vote.

But uh-oh! Gore campaigned in blue jeans (with Clinton) in 1992; in fact, “the first time Gore charged up on stage in his blue jeans” was during that campaign (most likely, before). In 1992, the blue jeans were favorably reviewed by the press, and casual wear is now routine among campaigning pols. But by the time of the 2000 race, the press corps was determined to show that Gore was a terrible fake, just like Clinton. In group conduct that is truly hard to fathom, they set out to “prove” it a thousand different ways, including their mindless comments about Gore’s blue jeans, earth tones, blue suits and troubling boots. And uh-oh! This commenter seems to have lapped it up whole. By the way—“comfortable in his own skin” was also a press corps script from Campaign 2000. This amorphous judgment was endlessly applied to all the candidates, typically in mindless fashion. For the record, McCain, Bush and Bradley all seemed “comfortable in their skin.” Only Gore did not.

As almost everybody acknowledged, the press corps favored Bradley during the 2000 primaries. But if the corps had disliked Bradley, they could have endlessly ridiculed him for similar “wardrobe malfunctions,” because he tended to campaign in clothing that could have been framed as a fake affectation. Bradley stressed his crummy old ties and his rumpled suits, which were alleged to prove his “authenticity;” at one point, he even dragged the press corps off to a Granite State shoe store, where they watched him buy a pair of new shoes—allegedly, the first pair of new shoes he had bought in 25 years! Frankly, no—it doesn’t get dumber. But because the press corps favored Bradley, they repeated his campaign’s silly spin-points; they said that Bradley’s rumpled clothes showed he was “comfortable in his own skin”—and they went about inanely pretending that Gore’s wardrobe showed something awful. (Routinely, they invented bogus “facts” to help craft these pleasing tales.) And guess what? Millions of voters—like the commenter—ending up buying this consummate drivel. Here we see the massive power of the press corps’ master “narratives.” When we hear tales repeated again and again, it’s only natural to think they have substance.

“On some level [Hundt and Somerby] know that Dowd understood Gore's campaigning weakness?” There you see the power of “narratives.” This voter has heard endless tales about Gore’s “campaigning weakness.” (He should have mentioned Clinton more! He hired a woman to teach him how to be a man!) But then, all news consumers have heard such tales—and only naturally, many find it hard to believe that these claims aren’t basically true. And of course, the commenter can mind-read what Hundt and Somerby think! Our own view? We think Gore campaigned in a thoroughly professional fashion (as did Bush)—in some ways, with remarkable skill and discipline. There was nothing important about his blue jeans, his earth tones, his suits or his troubling boots, although the press corps harped on them endlessly, inventing long strings of bogus facts so they could tell dumb-ass stories about them. The Troubling Matter of Gore’s Phony Wardrobe was just one part of an Endless Group Story, the shape of which we have discussed in great detail in our archives. But many voters just can’t quite believe that the stories they heard were essentially bogus. It’s hard to resist such elaborate scripts, and this mind-reader seems to have bought the one about Gore’s jeans. For the record, we’d probably give Gore a “B” as a campaigner in 2000 (same grade to Bush). We’re unaware of any great “campaigning weakness”—but we’re well aware of the thousand tales the press corps churned on this theme.

When the press corps decides to act as a group, for two solid years, it’s only natural to buy their tales. This is why we should read what Daou says about those “narratives”—and think about what he is saying.

ENDLESS BUMMER: Another Gore-defender says this, after dismissing Dowd’s foppistry:

COMMENT: (1) Gore has been terrific lately! He's showing courage, originality, gumption. I say, run, Gore, run! Give it another shot!

(2) His 2000 run was ghastly! Almost as bad as Kerry's. His Elian Gonzales stand made him look like a phony. I know, I know, he "won." But he was pathetic.

If he wants to redeem himself in '08, I say, run, Gore, run!

And that’s what Gore’s supporters believe! We’d love to hear this person recite the facts about Gore’s stand on Elian Gonzales. (And about his “ghastly,” “pathetic” campaign. This notion comes straight from the press corps.) The press corps harped on the Elian matter for a solid month, rearranging a string of basic facts to make their preferred story line more appealing. (Basic theme: Al Gore will do and say anything!) Simple fact: This matter remains in many voters’ heads because Dowd and her cohort chose to put it there. If they hadn’t been conducting their War Against Gore, they would surely have “reported” this matter quite differently. Gore never changed his position on Elian, and his position was identical to Bush’s. But try to find a press account in April 2000 which told voters that. The press kept implying (even saying) that Gore had conveniently flipped on this matter. Bush’s stand was essentially never mentioned. (All these topics are discussed, in detail, in our incomparable archives.)

The press corps rarely acts in concert the way it did in Campaign 2000. In this rare case, the scripts of the mainstream and conservative press corps came together almost totally. Here’s a fact about that race: Most of what we “know” about Campaign 2000 we “know” because of the press corps’ narratives. Those scripts were potent—and they live today, even among Gore’s open supporters. This is why we should read Peter Daou—and think about what he is saying.

START OF THE HUNDT: For the record, it’s great to see Hundt speak so frankly about the mainstream press. Here’s one of the essential points from Daou’s important post:

DAOU: There are a number of reasons why Democrats allow the media problem to fester. First, the "liberal" media mantra has been so pervasive that it is still accepted as fact by many beltway insiders. Republicans have mastered the art of institutional rage against the media, Democrats have not. Second, Democratic strategists haven't learned how to distinguish between stories and storylines. (The insidious effect of infectious narratives, the power of inoculation techniques, the concept of memetics and the role of the Internet, are alien to the Democratic establishment. And I say that having been in the belly of that establishment during the 2004 election).
“The insidious effect of infectious narratives are alien to the Democratic establishment.” Translation: Many Big Dems still don’t get it—and we’ll assume that’s correct. But we’ll add this: It will take a tremendous, generational effort for Democrats to identify this problem in public. The familiar notion of “liberal bias” has been broadcast for forty long years. Everyone has heard it, forever. It’s very hard for a party (or a candidate) to contradict such conventional wisdom. It’s much easier for liberal journalists to do so, of course. But the careful fellows at our liberal journals seem to have their eyes on the prize—on future jobs at the big news orgs which are involved in this matter. There is no sign that these self-dealing disgraces ever intend to speak.

It’s interesting to see Hundt speak up because of his political standing. It’s encouraging to see someone on his level offer this history of the media. No, a candidate can’t really do this—but respected Democrats certainly can. At the Monthly and the Prospect, they seem to have no plan to speak. We’re thrilled to see Hundt—and Daou—do it.

People deserve to hear the truth about the way their press corps really functions. As we’ve long said: The other side keeps saying things which are false. We keep refusing to say what is true. Why not one, two, many Reed Hundts? Here’s a note to major Dems: Why not start to discuss this more fully?

FOR THE RECORD: From today’s Post, an intriguing, front-page report on the man who—so says Dowd—is just so god-awful lousy.

ANOTHER SCRIPTED COMMENT: Another comment about Hundt’s piece reflects an Official Press Script:

COMMENT: say what you want about modo, but she's usually correct. gore was nearly unelectable. it shouldn't have been close. and the rest of our leading dems aren't cutting it as an opposition party either.
Al Gore blew a sure election—it shouldn’t have been close! This has long been a Standard Press Script. Should Gore have won this race in a walk? When campaigning began in the spring of 1999, Gore trailed Bush by as many as 20 points in the polls! And Clinton had just escaped removal from office. How have other VPs fared when they ran in such circumstances? Oh, that’s right! We almost forgot! The situation had no precedent.

Al Gore blew a sure election because he was so f*cking bad! This is a standard press corps script—one which helps to cover the press corps’ role in the outcome of this election. Like most of their scripts, it’s dumb and self-serving. And it’s now been said so many times that it’s lodged inside many folks’ heads.

FROM THE ANNALS OF LIBERAL BIAS: Three large cheers to Media Matters for this wonderful catch from Wednesday’s Today show. On the program, millionaire TV host Matt Lauer interviewed a living saint, John McCain:

MEDIA MATTERS (1/25/06): As McCain advanced this misleading claim in his interview with Lauer, an on-screen graphic read: "Straight Talk from John McCain." The text was an unmistakable reference to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, during which he ran as a self-styled “straight talker.”
In an even mildly rational world, something so ludicrous just couldn’t happen. In a mildly rational world, journalists—even the TV type—would know that, when you speak to a pol, you most likely shouldn’t chyron his campaign slogans for him.

But this clearly isn’t a rational world; this is the world of our millionaire press corps. How stupid will millionaire TV hosts be? As we noted at the time (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/05), this was one of George Stephanopoulos’ “questions” to Saint McCain on This Week. It happened this time last year:

STEPHANOPOULOS (2/6/05): Okay, let's turn to Social Security. Two straight-talk questions right at the top...
Could anyone but a millionaire anchor behave in such a laughable way? McCain didn’t have to shoehorn his slogans into his answers; they were already there as a part of his questions! Indeed, Stephanopoulos enjoyed pimping the great man’s slogans so much he decided to pimp them again:
STEPHANOPOULOS (2/6/05): Final straight-talk questions: What kind of benefit cuts should future retirees expect?
If you couldn’t see it, surely it would be hard to imagine. We lustily cheered when Media Matters flagged this flaming nonsense once again.