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DENBY JUMPS THE SNARK! David Denby talks straight about Dowd and Gore. Why won’t our Kewl Kids do likewise? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JANUARY 30, 2009

David Denby jumps the snark—or, it takes a film critic: It seems to be upper-end press corps law: Only film critics can tell you the truth about recent political history.

We first observed this odd cultural practice when Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, hit theaters in 2006. Major film critics discussed the way Gore was treated during Campaign 2000. But how weird! Political observers, even fiery “liberals,” did not! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/9/06. For an update to that post, see below.)

Now, The New Yorker’s David Denby has extended the pattern with his new book, Snark. Omigod! Though David Ulin forgets to say so in his Los Angeles Times review, Denby devotes an entire chapter to the fatuous work of Maureen Dowd; he even says that Dowd’s trashing of Candidate Gore helped decide Campaign 2000! The Kewl Kids on the “liberal” web—at your “liberal” journals—still refuse to traffic in this, of course. As in 2006, so today! It seems to take a film critic to say what is blatantly obvious:

DENBY (page 110): Now, Gore lost the election because he failed to carry his home state, Tennessee; because Ralph Nader took votes away from him; because the Florida balloting was a mess; and because the Supreme Court made the wrong decision. Yet, Dowd and the people who, imitating her, judged Al Gore by the pathetic caricature they turned him into—they also played a role in the outcome. Al Gore’s defeat was snark’s greatest victory and snark’s greatest disaster.

The Kewl Kids on your “liberal” web—at your “liberal” journals—still won’t say what Denby says there. Denby’s statement is blatantly obvious. But as in 2006, so too today! Your great “liberal” heroes find ways not to go there. When they accidentally blurt the truth, they know they can’t do so again.

Yes: Given the narrow way that campaign was decided—given the crackpot way the campaign was covered—it’s perfectly obvious that Campaign 2000 was decided by Dowd and her cohort. Why won’t those fiery “career liberals” say so? Again, we’ll update that post from 2006 down below, as we end.

For now, let’s return to that major film critic, the one who is saying what others will not. On Tuesday, Denby appeared on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show. To hear the full hour, just click here (Susan Page was the day’s guest host). But we thought we’d give you a basic part of what Denby correctly said.

“Maureen Dowd—let’s not make any mistake here,” Denby told Page early on, signaling his plan to make several mistakes. “Maureen Dowd is brilliant. Maureen Dowd is extremely talented, extremely funny.” To tell the truth, no—Maureen Dowd isn’t brilliant. But having kept faith with insider gods, Denby now turned to what’s accurate:

DENBY (continuing directly): And I will now—I’m going to use a word that I don’t think I’ve ever used about any other writer: I think she’s completely irresponsible... I mean, what she did to Al Gore in 2000, I think, was really awful. I mean, it was a guy who had a lot of interesting and serious ideas, who presented himself to the public stiffly, like a high school principal, you know, and she would not let up on him. And it really created a kind of atmosphere of open warfare against his personal style rather than what he was politically. In other words, I don’t—I’ve been reading her for twenty years and I don’t see a single political idea there...It’s all about personality, style, affect, and she sexualizes everything and genderizes everything. You know, Barack Obama was effeminate, she said, and Hillary Clinton was masculine—all this nonsense.

Ouch. Such accurate statements are rarely made about this fatuous upper-end star. And let’s give credit where credit is due: If we may borrow from the play-book of Dowd, press insider Susan Page took Denby’s screed just like a man.

For ourselves, we’d nibble at some of what Denby said. And let’s be clear about one thing: Dowd’s prominent role in Campaign 2000 actually began in December 1997, when she joined Frank Rich in creating the Al Gore said he inspired Love Story nonsense—nonsense the rest of her D-plus elite rode from March 1999 right through to November 2000, helping drive the Insider Novel which cast Gore as a Big Liar Nut. But in his interview, Denby does what is never done—and more importantly, he does so in his new book too. He speaks quite frankly about Maureen Dowd—and he says the misconduct of Dowd and her pals decided Campaign 2000. “Al Gore’s defeat was snark’s greatest victory and snark’s greatest disaster,” he correctly says. For some reason, it takes a film critic!

Was Campaign 2000 really decided by the press corps’ rolling misconduct? This fact is blatantly obvious; if that campaign wasn’t decided by the press, then no campaign ever will be. But the Kewl Kids on the liberal web almost never say such things, depriving their readers of basic knowledge about their own recent history; it seems to fall to the nation’s film critics to state such obvious truths. Why does that odd situation obtain? We can’t say in particular cases. But let’s return to that post from 2006, in which we applauded two other film critics for saying what’s so rarely said.

In that post, you’ll see us rolling our eyes at a fiery young liberal writer at one of your leading “liberal journals.” Yep! At the time, she wrote for The American Prospect—and, unlike our two film critics, she offered the Standard Press Corps Analysis of how Gore “lost” the race. It wasn’t the press corps which did it, she said; it wasn’t the Post or the Times—it was Gore! Garance Franke-Ruta sang sweetly that day, talking about Gore’s “pedantry and didacticism”—“the very qualities that undid Gore in 2000,” she said. Garance Franke-Ruta sang sweetly that day, presenting the Quite Standard Press Corps Critique. And sure enough! You may have remembered! Today, that same fiery liberal is employed by the Washington Post! By the major metropolitan newspaper she forgot to criticize that day!

We don’t have the slightest idea why Franke-Ruta sang so sweetly. But the Kewl Kids on the web—at career liberal journals—have always had a very hard time telling their readers the simplest truths about how Bush ended up in the White House. It’s obvious, but they can’t seem to spit it out—and they land on their feet at the Post or the Times! Denby can say it—but these fiery libs can’t. We hope their money is spending real good. In our view, their silence is largely the shape of your floundering age.

By the way: Lane and Milbank reached the Post in early 2000—having kept their traps shut at The New Republic, back in what’s known as “real time.” It seemed that no one could make out the truth. This week, a film critic did.

Taking the Digby Challenge—or, it’s only the end of the world: Speaking of snark, Digby got a boatload of same when she read Dana Milbank’s “Sketch” in yesterday’s Washington Post. And she seemed to know where she could turn for blessed relief! In an update at the end of this post, she vented—and issued a challenge:

DIGBY (1/29/09): On a related matter, here’s Dana Milbank trying very, very hard to be as bitchy, shallow and sophomoric as Maureen Dowd. I'm afraid he fails even by those low standards....

I'll look forward to Somerby's thorough takedown of this tired and bizarrely anachronistic column.

With lightning speed, we replied. In Friday’s HOWLER, we pledged, we’d take The Digby Challenge! Indeed, we’d already pondered Milbank’s “Sketch” while we were munching our bagel that day. Amazingly, we suggested to Digby, you couldn’t see how silly and sad this was without yesterday’s hard-copy Post.

For the record, Milbank was “sketching” Al Gore’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On cable, the D-plus elite took a well-traveled route; pundits laughed because Gore had discussed global warming on a day when it actually snowed! That’s right! The world’s dumbest known human beings were amused by this nonsense again. But uh-oh! Juliet Eilperin had wiped the smiles off our faces at the start of her news report—her highly capable news report in yesterday’s Washington Post:

EILPERIN (1/29/09): Former vice president Al Gore urged lawmakers yesterday to adopt a binding carbon cap and push for a new international climate pact by the end of this year in order to avert catastrophic global warming.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gore delivered a short slide show that amounted to an update of his Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," lecturing some of his former colleagues that even if the world halted greenhouse gas emissions now, the world could experience a temperature rise of 2.5 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

"This would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the Earth, and this is within this century," Gore said.

Gore was discussing the end of the world as we know it—and it was clear from Eilperin’s news report that major senators, from both major parties, had staged a very serious discussion of this topic with Gore. But at the Post, an utterly hapless D-plus elite adopted a different “take” on the matter. On page A3, the editors devoted 539 words to Eilperin’s capable news report. Next to it, they placed Milbank’s dim-witted “Sketch”—a sketch which ran more than 900 words, and included a large, mocking photo of Gore. (Good solid fun! The photo showed Gore wiping his brow—even as he discussed warming!) Eilperin’s news report rated two columns; beside it, dwarfing it, Milbank got four. The Senate was discussing the end of the world—and the Post played the day for big fun.

We won’t present the level of detail Digby seemed to be seeking. At County Seat, Brother Boehlert said this, and we think he captured the thrust of Milbank’s latest inanity:

BOEHLERT (1/29/09): Naturally, the Post's staff clown Dana Milbank mocks Gore and his testimony as well, calling him Goracle. Get it? It sounds like Gore but it also sounds like oracle. Get it? It's a play on words.

And yes, that was the entire point of Milbank's so-called column—to refer to Gore as Goracle as many times as possible. Oh, aside from reporting, “Gore, suffering from a case of personal climate change, perspired heavily during his testimony.”

Boehlert was right in his first observation. The use of the highly amusing word “Goracle” did seem to be Milbank’s major “point.” Indeed, the lighter-than-air former Skull-and-Bonesman used the amusing word eighteen times in the course of his silly-bill “Sketch!” Incredibly, his fatuous piece contained 23 paragraphs; 18 of them contained that key word! It may have snowed in DC that day—but this scribe was evoking the Rain Man.

(The word appeared a nineteenth time. “The Goracle endures localized warming to deliver his message,” the Post’s extremely amusing photo caption quite amusingly said.)

Milbank may be the world’s dumbest man—but in fairness, we’ve seen him do worse. He didn’t complain that Gore used too many big words, as he did in May 2007 when Gore dared to discuss his new book. (Gore had even used such terms as “the marketplace of ideas,” Milbank groused that day. Not making that up.) And he didn’t complain that Gore was too fat, as he did in March 2007, when Gore last appeared before a Senate committee. That said, let’s run through a few rhetorical features as the silly former Bonesman extended the endless campaign in which the D-plus gang at the Washington Post rolls its eyes at the sad “pedant” Gore:

Perspiration: As Boehlert noted, Milbank made a point of claiming that Gore had “perspired heavily.” For the record, this claim continues a longstanding tradition. During the twenty months of Campaign 2000, mainstream “journalists” frequently complained that Gore perspired way too much, sometimes using this as a clever way to compare him to sweaty old Nixon. When Gore formally announced his campaign in June 1999, Roger Simon went there for U.S. News: “His sweat glands are positively Nixonian,” he explained, in his second paragraph. And you may recall where William Schneider went on the night of the first Gore/Bradley debate—the night his colleagues jeered and laughed at Gore for the full hour. “Gore perspired, perhaps that was planned, to make himself look like a fighter,” the daft CNN wise man said. For ourselves, we’ve never quite been able to spot the alleged perspiration on our tape of this session—but we do know a nut when we see one on cable. Gore was perspiring—and it was planned! In this way, these public crackpots strained to send Bush to the White House.

Controlling authorities: Repeating himself in almost each graf, Milbank remembered a glorious day when Gore had repeated himself, several times. It’s one of the press corps’ most treasured memories. Silly-bills love to revisit:

MILBANK: It was a jarring reminder that the Goracle is, indeed, mortal. Once Al Gore was a mere vice president, but now he is a Nobel laureate and climate-change prophet. He repeats phrases such as "unified national smart grid" the way he once did "no controlling legal authority"—and the ridicule has been replaced by worship, even by his political foes.

But not by those at the Post. On March 3, 1997—a day that will live in insider glory—Gore repeated that famous phrase seven times in a (roughly) twenty-minute press conference, alternating it with “no case law,” thus explaining what the phrase meant. For the record, that was the day when the press corps transformed its war against Clinton into a simultaneous war against Gore. Twelve years later, Milbank remembers—repeats—what Gore said. Did we mention those hints of the Rain Man?

For extra credit, this column also gives readers a chance to see Milbank’s dissembling technique at work, as he pretends that Gore created a “riddle” by speaking obscurely about “Copenhagen.” We’ll just say this: If you read Eilperin, you will get a clear idea of how Milbank played you. This time.

But then, let’s return to Eilperin’s piece to capture yesterday’s glory. Better yet, go to C-Span and watch the tape of Gore’s appearance. (We assume it will soon be posted.) You’ll be impressed by what you see—not just by Gore’s mastery of the subject, but by the highly intelligent questions asked by a string of major solons, senators from both major parties. Chris Dodd was impressive—but so was Dick Lugar. Indeed: Quoting Lugar, Milbank accidentally tipped his hand about what was at stake:

MILBANK: Though some lawmakers tangled with Gore on his last visit to Capitol Hill, none did on the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. Dick Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican, agreed that there will be "an almost existential impact" from the climate changes Gore described.

The discussion concerned a threat to the planet that Lugar calls “almost existential.” Result? The Post gave Eilperin 539 words for her capable news report. Their top chimpanzee got 912 for his inane, pointless “sketch”—and he got that large, comical photo. As they sat side-by-side on page A3, Milbank’s latest silly clowning dwarfed Eilperin’s careful report.

Go to C-Span and watch that tape; we think that you will be impressed. Go back to the Post and read that “Sketch.” You’ll gaze on the soul of a D-plus elite. Our question, and it’s sadly literal: Can your nation survive it?

B.S. Don’t miss Milbank’s comical headline, which features more word-play: “With Al Due Respect, We’re Doomed.”

A bit of job history: So you’ll recall: Milbank took his job at the Post in January 2000. He’d just spent nine months covering the Gore campaign for The New Republic—and he’d somehow failed to notice the unbridled “warfare” (Denby’s term) the Post was already waging. (Ceci Connolly was worse in 1999 than she was in 2000.) But then, his editor, Charles Lane, had failed to notice the Post’s warfare too. And wouldn’t you know it? He signed on with the Post at the very same time! Peter Beinart was left at TNR not to notice. He now writes a monthly piece for the Post.

Why did Franke-Ruta write what she did? Why didn’t she say the things Denby did? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea. Just call her! She’s paid by the Post.