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HERBERT HEARS A HOO! Kristol will drag down the Times, liberals say. We ask: Have they ever read Herbert? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JANUARY 29, 2008

DEFEAT OF THE RUBES: Lower tax rates produce higher revenues! The rubes have been handed this flat-earth nonsense for years–and your hard-charging “press corps” just sits back and watches. Last night, two rubes repeated this blather to Luntz. Tomorrow, we give you full details.

DRIVEN TO FAINTING COUCHES BY KRISTOL: The liberal world has reacted predictably to Bill Kristol’s hiring by the Times op-ed page. Yesterday, even Kevin Drum jumped on the pile, and so we’ll build our comments from there. “Not to get all obsessed by this, but is Bill Kristol a boring columnist, or what?” Kevin asked. At the end of a short post, Kevin complained about Kristol’s high “level of banality.”

In truth, Kevin’s post is pretty tame stuff, compared to denunciations from other liberals during Kristol’s first weeks on the job. Singing from a silly old song-book, scripted liberals keened and wailed about the way this banal fellow had lowered the standards of this great op-ed page. His views are so predictable! liberals have cried. And his style is so deadly!

We’re saddened to see all this liberal banality. Kristol joined an op-ed page which already featured Dowd and Collins–two of the planet’s most banal humans. Meanwhile, for a look at Bob Herbert’s enduring genius, see our post below. Indeed, with Krugman as a notable exception, the genius of New York Times op-ed scribes is quite reliably observed in the breach. The Times op-ed page was a cosmic disaster long before Bill Kristol got there. There is no chance–no chance on earth–that he’ll take its averages lower.

Of course, many liberals cling to the notion that Frank Rich churns brilliant copy each week. In our view, that opinion is largely held because Rich tends to say the (banal) things which liberals very much enjoy hearing. Frankly, it’s hard to claim that Rich presents telling analyses–and he’s often savaged Big Major Dems. Indeed, Rich was still trashing Gore as a big major phony in May 2006, after seeing An Inconvenient Truth. (Even at that extremely late date, the big dope couldn’t run fast enough to tell Don Imus what a phony Gore was.) Years earlier, Rich had spent the bulk of Campaign 2000 insisting that Bush and Gore were two peas in a pod. What difference does it make who wins? this big dumb rube kept asking.

So the Times op-ed page has long been a mess. It has frequently been a disaster for Dems. (Incredibly, Herbert trashed Gore–and vouched for Bush’s honesty–even after the first Bush-Gore debate!) But rather than help readers understand this, we liberals are having our jollies this month, pretending that Kristol is dragging down the page’s lofty standards. In precisely this way, we blinkered liberals have failed to confront the basic realities of the past sixteen years. What keeps us locked in our mental prisons, refusing to notice what’s real?

HERBERT HEARS A HOO: Will Kristol drag down the Times’ op-ed page? Consider Bob Herbert’s Saturday column, in which he discussed a critical topic–the most serious topic in our society, the critical topic called “race.”

As many Big Pundits have done this past week, Herbert lodged a serious charge; he claimed that “the Clinton camp” has been playing the race card in vicious ways against Obama. Indeed, they have engaged in “slimy maneuvers” and “lowlife tactics,” Herbert aggressively said. Few claims could possibly be more serious–but Herbert just isn’t a serious person. As noted, Herbert types on the Times op-ed page, an enduring case study in broken-souled pseudo-journalism. That said, here’s one of the ways he fleshed out his charge. In this passage, he claims to be sharing the ugly results of the Clinton campaign’s “lowlife tactics:”

HERBERT (1/26/08): The Clinton camp knows what it's doing, and its slimy maneuvers have been working...the damage to Senator Obama has been real, and so have the benefits to Senator Clinton of these and other lowlife tactics.

Consider, for example, the following Web posting (misspellings and all) from a mainstream news blog on Jan. 13:

''omg people get a grip. Can you imagine calling our president barak hussien obama...I cant, I pray no one would be disrespectful enough to put this man in our whitehouse.''

Mr. Obama's campaign was always going to be difficult, and the climb is even steeper now.

With only 800 words at his disposal, Herbert chose to reprint this dim-witted post; he plainly implied that this dim-witted post could be laid at the feet of the Clinton camp’s “slimy maneuvers” and “lowlife tactics.” The inanity of this reasoning is surely apparent–except to those at the Times op-ed page. (For Greg Sargent’s polite assessment of Herbert’s “reasoning,” you know what to do–just click here.)

Herbert’s “analysis” is straight from the sand-box. Sadly, that kind of work is commonly found on the page which Kristol is said to be sullying. But while we’re at it, let’s review the way Herbert tried to establish his basic claim–the claim that “the Clinton camp” has engaged in “slimy,” “lowlife” racial tactics.

One would think that this was a serious claim–a claim one would make very carefully. One would think that–until one watched the way a big pundit like Herbert advanced it. How did Herbert try to establish his case? How did he prove this most serious charge? After a bit of high-minded blather, he offered his first bit of “evidence:”

HERBERT: Bill Clinton, in his over-the-top advocacy of his wife's candidacy, has at times sounded like a man who's gone off his medication. And some of the Clinton surrogates have been flat-out reprehensible.

Andrew Young, for instance.

This week, while making the remarkable accusation that the Obama camp was responsible for raising the race issue, Mr. Clinton mentioned Andrew Young as someone who would bear that out. It was an extremely unfortunate reference.

Here's what Mr. Young, who is black and a former ambassador to the United Nations, had to say last month in an interview posted online: ''Bill is every bit as black as Barack. He's probably gone with more black women than Barack.''

He then went on to make disgusting comments about the way Bill and Hillary Clinton defended themselves years ago against the fallout from the former president's womanizing. That's coming from the Clinton camp!

“That’s coming from the Clinton camp,” Herbert storms, after quoting Young’s foolish comments. Young’s conduct is “flat-out reprehensible,” Herbert says. But given the weirdness of Young’s statements, does anybody seriously think that Bill or Hillary Clinton told Young to make them? And if they didn’t, what exactly is the point of this big chunk of this column?

In this passage, we see Classic Herbert–classic New York Times Op-ed Writing. The gentleman starts by insulting Bill Clinton for “sound[ing] like a man who's gone off his medication.” But readers! Instead of quoting something Clinton has said, Herbert quickly slips away, quoting Andrew Young instead–and implying that Young’s oddball statements are somehow the fault of the Clintons. (Andrew Young is described as a “surrogate”–a slippery word which has proven quite useful for slippery pundits in the past month.) And then, we reach the more interesting passage–the passage about Bob Kerrey.

In truth, Herbert’s passage about Young doesn’t make much sense. Ditto his work with that on-line comment. Therefore, his passage about Kerrey is the bulk of his case. And here’s what Herbert tell us:

HERBERT: And then there was Bob Kerrey, the former senator and another Clinton supporter, who slimed up the campaign with the following comments:

“It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal.''

Pressing the point, Mr. Kerrey told CNN's John King: ''I've watched the blogs try to say that you can't trust him because he spent a little bit of time in a secular madrassa. I feel quite the opposite.''

Get it?

Let's start with the fact that Mr. Obama never attended a madrassa, and that there is no such thing as a secular madrassa. A madrassa is a religious school. Beyond that, the idea is to not-so-slyly feed the current frenzy, on the Internet and elsewhere, that Senator Obama is a Muslim, and thus potentially (in the eyes of many voters) an enemy of the United States.

Mr. Obama is not a Muslim. He's a Christian. And if he were a Muslim, it would not be a legitimate reason for attacking his candidacy.

The Clinton camp knows what it's doing, and its slimy maneuvers have been working...

Clearly, Herbert implies that Kerrey said these things to damage Obama’s candidacy. But on what basis are we asked to believe this? Here at THE HOWLER, we’re not big Kerrey fans ourselves, but we’d be astounded–we would be stunned–if Kerrey said these things for the race-baiting reasons Herbert implies here. But Herbert makes no attempt to prove that Kerrey had an improper motive; he simply asserts this claim. Meanwhile, was Kerrey told to say these things by “the Clinton camp,” which “knows what it’s doing?” Herbert broadly implies that he was–but again, he offers no evidence. Because Kerrey has never been close with Bill Clinton–and because he’s always been a bit of a loose cannon–that idea strikes us as highly implausible. But on what basis does Herbert suggest it? No basis is ever stated. Herbert simply says this occurred–or rather, he implies that it did.

Today’s Times includes a letter from Kerrey, in which he reasserts his view about Obama. “If [Obama] becomes president of the United States,” Kerrey says, “his experience will give him the capacity to undo much of the damage we have done to our standing in Muslim communities without weakening our resolve to keep ourselves safe from terrorist Islamic groups.” Meanwhile, Kerrey expresses surprise at the way Herbert trashed him for his bad motives. But we don’t know why Kerrey should be so surprised. The op-ed page of the New York Times has been a bad joke for years.

How did Herbert argue his case? He started by hurling an insult at Bill Clinton. But then, he didn’t quote anything Clinton had said; instead, he quoted other people, and simply asserted bad motives all around. He implies that this has all been a plot–but he never argues the case. And of course, he throws in that dim-witted on-line comment. He only has 800 words for his piece–and he wastes our time typing that.

But this is the way this page has long functioned. Even after the first Bush-Gore debate, this same brilliant fellow was trashing Gore–and vouching for Darling Bush’s integrity. And that’s why we’ve marveled, in recent weeks, as liberals complain about new hire Kristol, who will supposedly drag this page down. Beyond that, it’s why we ask our new question each Friday: When will our greatest “logicians” and “thinkers” descend from their mountain aeries and help us mortals, writhing here, down on this Times-ridden plain?

WHERE IT CAME FROM: That on-line message, “misspellings and all,” was a response to this December 16 post by ABC’s Jake Tapper–a post in which Tapper offered a thoughtful assessment of Kerrey’s actual motives. (He even interviewed Kerrey!) Apparently, Herbert read the things that Kerrey told Tapper–then simply asserted his own conclusion, sharing his mind-reading brilliance with readers. Herbert just knew what Kerrey was doing–and the Times op-ed page let him “know” it.

But then, this page has been a cosmic disaster for years. It’s the type of fact we blinkered liberals still refuse to express.