SCRIPT CONQUERS ALL! Clinton is leading McCain in the polls—but Fineman refuses to tell you: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JANUARY 26, 2007
OUR PROPOSAL TO ATRIOS: You send us a capable agent, well publish. The story is astounding, and deserves to be told. Our super-agent recently deserted us. Not so much as a word as to why.
THE PROBLEM WITH NOVELS: Yesterday, former Cheney aide Cathie Martin testified in the Libby trial. In the Post, Dana Milbank uses his incomparable skills with body language to tell us how she seemed:
MILBANK (1/26/07): During her testimony, Martin, a Harvard Law School graduate married to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and a close pal of Bush counselor Dan Bartlett, seemed uncomfortable, shifting in her chair, squinting at her interrogators, stealing quick glances at the jury, and repeatedly touching her cheek, ear, nose, lips and scalp.That was brilliant work by Dana. But uh-oh! Neil Lewis watched Martin testify too. In the Times, he tells us this:
LEWIS (1/26/07): Theodore V. Wells Jr., Mr. Libby's chief lawyer, in his cross-examination of Ms. Martin, tried to challenge her memory, as he has done with other witnesses...Over all, however, Ms. Martin was a self-assured witness whose testimony appeared to have frayed Mr. Libby's version of events. She is also a loyal Republican who was recruited to work for the vice president by Mary Matalin, a close friend of both Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney.No, those accounts arent technically contradictory. But, if seeming is believing, Milbank and Lewis paint quite different pictures of Martins demeanor on the stand. What is gained when brilliant analysts tell us how a person seemed? In campaign coverage, reporters frequently let us know the candidates seem and appear, especially at our less disciplined major papers. Wed be much better off if theyd STFU—if theyd simply report what the candidates said. Novels can be purchased at Borders. We dont need reporters to type them.
DIONNE AND THE DISAPPEARED: Jim Webb rocked the world Tuesday night. (We also thrilled to see Nancy Pelosi.) But when E. J. Dionne tried to explain what was so great about Webbs speech, he lapsed into tired, familiar themes—familiar themes which virtually define the working of the modern mainstream press corps.
Why was Webb so strong Tuesday night? According to Dionne, its probably because he was once a Reaganite. (The headline: Reagan Democrat.) Having thus suggested that only Republicans can deliver convincing statements, Dionne went on to paint a portrait of the typical fuzzy, focus-grouped pol—a pol who is clearly a Democrat:
DIONNE (1/25/07): Giving the speech in response to a president's State of the Union address may be the hardest assignment in politics. Even the best of the genre reek of focus-grouped and poll-tested sentences. You have the feeling the words are dictated by some party pooh-bah who believes the speech will fail if it does not touch all the issues on every strategist's list.From the list of topics weve highlighted, its clear that this mush-mouthed, poll-tested, focus-grouped pol is a Democrat, not a Republican. But heres our question: Did Republican pols offer brilliant rebuttals to President Clintons SOTUs? We dont recall that happening. Is it only Democratic pols who use key phrases [which have been] polled to death? In the 90s, the Luntz-era Republican party became famous for its focus-grouped language. But so what? Dionne offers the standard derogatory portrait of the feckless, poll-tested, inauthentic Dem pol. And he offers no suggestion that Republicans ever act this way too.
But the part of this column which really offends comes shortly after this portrait. In the following passage, Dionne continues to mock these spineless Dems—and he completely misrepresents the politics of the Clinton-Bush era:
DIONNE (1/25/07): Many Democrats tremble that they will be accused by some right-wing Web site or presidential spokesman of waging class warfare. Webb made clear that there is a class war going on and that the wrong side is winning it.Oh, those cowardly, trembling Democrats! According to Dionne, theyve trembled for fear that theyll be accused of bad acts by some right-wing Web site or presidential spokesman.
In fact, major Dem pols have had plenty of reason to choose their words carefully in the past fifteen years. But their caution hasnt been caused by right-wing web sites—its been caused by Dionnes mainstream press corps. To select the pivotal political event of the era, why did Candidate Gore have to choose his words carefully? Because he was being relentlessly savaged by the mainstream press corps—and because cowardly scribes like Dionne refused to address their cohorts astonishing conduct. Today, Bush has virtually destroyed the known world, and major elements of the mainstream press have finally turned their backs on his follies. Its much easier, therefore, for Dems to speak frankly, as Webb did so brilliantly on Tuesday night. But in his passage about right-wing web sites, Dionne does what his colleagues have done for years—he disappears the behavior of his own mainstream cohort. He pretends that the poisonous anti-Dem politics of the Clinton-Bush era has mainly come from right-wing sources. In fact, the attacks against Clinton and Gore which tipped our politics came from his colleagues at the Post, and from their counterparts at the New York Times. They came from his colleagues on mainstream programs like Hardball—a program on which Dionne appears. But, as his cohort has constantly done, Dionne is still pretending that he doesnt know this.
All through the Clinton-Bush era, theyve done it. Theyve beaten the shit out of Big Major Dems, often in utterly ludicrous ways, then theyve pretended that it was Republican opponents or late-night comedians who were delivering the poisonous messages. In this era, Democratic politicians were forced to choose their words extremely carefully. Theyve been forced by the venom of Dionnes mainstream colleagues—and by the silence of Dionne himself.
WHY THEYVE DONE IT: Why has the mainstream press, in the Clinton-Bush era, driven so many wild attacks against Dems? Dionne wont tell you—but we will. Well quote from Paul Krugman this morning:
KRUGMAN (1/26/07): The history of the last few decades has basically been the story of the New Deal in reverse. Income inequality has returned to levels not seen since the pre-New Deal era, and so have political divisions in Congress as the Republicans have moved right, once again becoming the party of the economic elite. The signature domestic policy initiatives of the Bush administration have been attempts to undo F.D.R.'s legacy, from slashing taxes on the rich to privatizing Social Security. And a bitter partisan gap has opened up between the G.O.P. and Democrats, who have tried to defend that legacy.But the mainstream press corps—Dionnes bosom colleagues—are now part of that economic elite. The opinion leaders of the mainstream press are now that elites multimillionaire tribunes. When Dionne makes nice with Matthews on Hardball, hes making nice with Jack Welchs best boy—with a man who is paid to denigrate Dems. Yes, Matthews has been right on Iraq—but he has never stopped denigrating Dems in the process. It was his cohorts endless denigrations which tipped the politics of Clinton-Bush years, not those which came from right wing web sites. Dionne has never addressed this problem—and apparently never will.
Krugmans column describes the real world, in which Republicans represent the economic elite. Dionnes mainstream colleagues have become the tribunes of that elite—and Dionne has no plan to discuss it.
BOYS CLUB: We recommend this outstanding post by Tappeds J. Goodrich, who quotes Salons Joan Walsh at some length. Dirty little secret: Our TV pundit class is largely dominated by a musty, throwback, old-world male cohort. Since Goodrich discusses the post-SOTU comments of manly men Chris Matthews and Mike Barnicle, its a good time to revisit the peculiar Irish Catholic (millionaire) cabal which now seems to be NBC News.
Obviously, theres nothing wrong with being Irish Catholic. In fact, we were raised Irish Catholic ourselves—and it was the real-deal Boston strain, not some Philly or Buffalo offshoot. But there is something odd about a news org which seems to double as an Irish-Catholic boys club. And the dysfunctional punditry which has come from NBC and MSNBC—punditry which has badly harmed American interests—reflects the socially conservative Irish-Catholic backwaters from which these musty throwback pundits seem to have emerged.
Weve discussed this before, but lets hit it again. Jack Welch (Irish Catholic—and strict Republican) was ruling the roost at GE. For his head of news at NBC, he picked Robert Wright (Irish Catholic). Wright hired Tim Russert (Irish Catholic) to run the NBC Washington bureau and to host Meet the Press. And he hired Chris Matthews (Irish Catholic) to be the number-one cable guy; he also groomed Brian Williams (Irish Catholic) to take over Nightly News from Brokaw. (Proving his mettle during Campaign 2000, Williams spent months making bizarre complaints about Gores deeply troubling clothes.) Matthews guest host is often Barnicle (Irish Catholic), and his cable nets go-to pundit is the quite able Pat Buchanan (Irish Catholic). MSNBCs chief Washington correspondent is Norah ODonnell. But then, NBC has so many ODonnells on the roster that they may well rate an entire page in the networks phone book.
And yes, this very much seems like a club—a club which does seem to be Catholic. But the mainstream press corps knows the rules; it knows it mustnt discuss the life-styles of its rich and famous members. NBCs gang does its bonding at the club—the Nantucket Club, in fact. In 2003, the Washingtonians Sallie Brady discussed life among the swells:
BRADY (8/03): Russert is part of the Nantucket NBC crowd, one of the cliques that fuels the isle's social engine. It was Jack Welch, the story goes, the 20-year chairman and CEO of NBC's parent company, General Electric, who drew network folk to Nantucket...Brady didnt mention Matthews, but he bought a $4.4 million home on Nantucket the next year.
Theres nothing wrong with being Irish Catholic. And theres nothing automatically wrong with having a few (million) bucks. But its odd to see a major news org which seems to double as a millionaire Catholic boys club, and the throwback gender tone which has pervaded so much of the punditry of the past fifteen years plainly echoes the old world values of socially conservative Irish Catholicism. Meanwhile, its revealing to see the way the press corps opinion leaders are taken into the rarefied world of the nations wealthiest people. Jack Welch may be a very nice guy, but he is the Republican economic elite. His boys surround him on the island—and theyve endlessly driven poisonous attacks on the eras Major Dems. And to this day, they continue to pander, fawn and blubber about the brilliance of Saints McCain and Giuliani. We know, we know—these pundits all seem like OK guys. But the pattern here is remarkable—and its blindingly obvious.
And no, it isnt just NBC. No one chased Clinton and Gore around more than the capitals various overwrought Irish-Catholic columnists, and the throwback gender tone was evident there too. The late Michael Kelly was a reliable nutcase, and his childhood pal Maureen Dowd brings the confused gender values of her youth to the New York Times twice weekly. Example: On June 16, 1999, Gore gave the speech which announced his White House campaign. And Dowd provided a classic send-off that morning. Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he's practically lactating, she thoughtfully wrote. As you know, Dowd rarely rises above such childish thoughts as she drags down the soul of her nation. Every bit as much as Matthews, shes the perfect throwback.
These people are musty, disturbed, unwell. Wed love to see Mitchell and Walsh explore the sources of the anti-girl values they critique in that post from Tapped. But above it all, we see an age-old pattern. These are tribunes of the economic elite. Theyre paid vast sums by their corporate bosses—and they cant seem to stop laughing about how fat those Big Dems are, or about the funny clothing they wear. They did it all during Campaign 2000. They did it on TV last weekend.
What happens when we let our press corps be run by a multimillionaire elite—a rich elite with throwback values? Mitchell and Walsh are struck by this gangs throwback gender values. And not only that—here was Matthews in Atlanta last weekend:
MATTHEWS (1/21/07): 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. Youd sit down one-on-one, it was a unilateral, with some anchor or reporter, a serious reporter. And every time you saw a primary, youd stay up till 11:30 to see who won, and youd see the president, the candidate, sitting there very calmly talking about the future of the country.That was not a right-wing web site talking about those sweaty Democrats—a bunch of crazy people yelling. That was Matthews, Welchs best boy, doing what hes done for many years. And yes: That astounding description of Dems comes straight out of the social matrix which Krugman describes in his column this morning. That description is astounding—and carefully purchased. Its the voice of that economic elite.
It was these mainstream tribunes who tipped the politics of Clinton-Bush era, not a bunch of right-wing web sites. Surely, Dionne understands this. But most of our citizens still dont know, because Dionne (and other pundits) have agreed not to tell them. Our press corps never discusses its multimillionaire cribs—or the poisonous messages which have emerged from such venues. They always pretend it was someone else who changed our politics with those messages. It must have been the presidents men—or those daggone right-wing web sites.
FINAL NOTE TO J AND JOAN: Not that theres anything wrong with it, but Matthews is in Las Vegas this weekend—judging the Miss America contest! Our question for this excitable throwback: Dude! Whos sweaty now?
Special report: A bad new idea!
PART 4—SCRIPT CONQUERS ALL: The standard putdowns are already in place, being used by well-scripted pundits. But our favorite spin is surely this: Hillary Clinton cant be elected. Many liberals and Democrats seem to believe this, and it isnt entirely hard to see why. Just consider Howard Finemans appearance on the Imus show last week.
Imus and Fineman chatted about the Dems Big Three—Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Of those three, [Edwards] is the only one who could get elected, Imus said at one point. Maybe, Fineman said, after a pause. Im not sure I necessarily agree with you. And then, this next exchange occurred. Gaze on the ways of the world:
IMUS (1/18/07): Do you think that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama could be elected president?Its not impossible, Fineman magnanimously said, revealing the ways of the world.
Its not impossible! For the moment, lets consider Clinton. Fineman, of course, is employed by Newsweek, a magazine which does a good deal of national polling. As chance would have it, the mag was about to release its latest such effort—a poll which showed Clinton leading John McCain, 48-47, in a nationwide survey (link below). Fineman may not have seen that result, but Newsweek had also polled in December—and Clinton had led McCain by seven points (50-43). In short, Clinton had polled ahead of the GOPs sanctified front-runner in Newsweeks last two polls. But Fineman didnt mention such facts when Imus asked if Clinton could win. Instead, he made it sound extremely unlikely. Its not impossible, he generously said—revealing the ways of the world.
How would a Clinton-McCain race turn out? Like Fineman, we dont have the slightest idea. But also like Fineman, we know what the recent polling has shown (links below); recent polling has generally shown Clinton running close races with both of the saints, McCain and Giuliani. More often than not, shes ahead in these polls. But then, Obama is also narrowly beating McCain in the latest Newsweek survey—and Edwards is beating McCain by five points. And no, it isnt just the Newsweek polls which have produced such troubling outcomes. Clinton and McCain are tied in the current Time poll. Clinton leads McCain, 49-47, in last weeks ABC/WashPost survey.
Like Howard Fineman, we know these facts. Unlike Fineman, we arent trying to bamboozle voters, so we would have actually mentioned these facts when Imus asked if Clinton could win. Many Dems still think she cant win—in part, because fine tribunes like Fineman keep elementary facts to themselves. Many people were listening to Imus last week. They were kept in the dark by Fineman.
Liberals and Democrats need to learn what to say in the face of this spinning. (Dont worry—Dionne wont help you.) Libs and Dems need to learn what to say when they hear that Clinton will do and say anything. Libs and Dems need to learn what to say when they hear that Clinton is phony and fake. Libs and Dems need to learn what to say when they say that Clintons divisive—too polarizing. And libs and Dems need to learn what to say when fellows like Fineman go on TV and make it sound like she cant be elected. These boys are paid extremely good sums to push the desires of their corporate masters. Theyll be willing to play it dumb—to deceive—all the way to November 08. They changed world history in Campaign 2000. They cant wait to get out there again.
ITS EVERYWHERE: This tendency seems to be widespread. Last week, Josh Marshall recommended this arguably definitive profile of Clinton, written by Josh Green for The Atlantic. We agree with Josh—its a thorough profile, and its basically fair. But uh-oh! Quite quickly, we ran into this:
GREEN (11/06): In her Senate race six years ago Clinton seemed headed for an epic showdown with Rudolph Giuliani that she appeared likely to lose. History wrote a different ending. Clinton will cruise to reelection this month without serious challenge.Say what? Clinton appeared likely to lose her 2000 senate race with Giuliani? That surprised us, so we looked it up. Result? On May 2, 2000, Giuliani had just announced his problem with cancer. A few weeks later, he would announce that he wasnt running. An unsigned article in the Washington Post discussed the statewide polling just as his condition emerged:
WASHINGTON POST (5/2/00): A Quinnipiac College poll released today concluded that so far Giuliani's medical condition has not influenced voter preference in the Senate race. Half the 952 voters surveyed were contacted after Giuliani's announcement Thursday, and Quinnipiac polling director Maurice Carroll said there was no noticeable shift among them. The poll showed that the race remains neck-and-neck, with Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton leading Giuliani 46 percent to 44 percent.Clinton was ahead by two points. In late April, a New York Times/CBS News poll had her ahead by eight. Under the rules which pervade our journalism, this means she was likely to lose. Did Fineman help out with this profile?