UNFAIR WHEN BALANCED: Whatever you do, dont watch the tape of Eugene Robinsons appearance on Fridays Washington Journal; if you do, youll see that the Washington Posts new columnist is one of the three nicest guys on the planet. But the liberal scribe did a full hour on the C-SPAN program, booked to balance a preceding hour with conservative crackpot Ann Coulter. What happened next wasnt Brian Lambs fault. But just to set the scene a bit, heres how Lamb promoed the morning:
LAMB (2/18/05): [Sorry. Were having trouble accessing C-SPANs video links; theyve been mis-performing since early Sunday. Well supply the full quote when transmission resumes. But Lamb opened the Friday show by saying that wed get an hour from Coulter, a conservative, and an hour from Robinson, a liberal.]It sounded great! Viewers would get a balanced program—one hour from a Major Conservative, and one hour from a Big Lib.
In fact, the two-hour session gave us a look at the current state of our mainstream press corps—a world in which conservatives spend their time trashing Democrats, and liberals trash Democrats too! Coulter spent her hour in standard fashion, making utterly ludicrous statements about the perfidy of liberals and Dems. But then, when Robinson did the subsequent hour, all that changed was the level of invective, not the direction of the attacks. Like Coulter, Robinson devoted his entire hour to hackneyed complaints about liberals and Dems. Only once—at the 39-minute mark—did he actually manage to criticize a Republican (text below). And the fiery liberal did that only grudgingly, after being prompted by Lamb.
Robinson is clearly the worlds nicest fellow. But hes also a Standard Modern Press Liberal—a disengaged fellow who earns his living reciting toned-down spin from the right.
Of course, Coulters idiocy needs little belaboring. This day, the high point came when a caller asked her to define her favorite terms—liberal and conservative. There was a time, not long ago, when you couldnt be this stupid on television:
COULTER (2/18/05): Conservatives believe in God. All of our beliefs proceed from that, that is why we dont believe you can half-deliver a baby and puncture its little head and proclaim that a constitutional right has been performed. That is why we love the United States of America, a country—I mean, I would be a peasant selling moccasins on the street or being beaten when my shoes make noise if I had been born in another country. What protects me is the United States of America, based on the Christian premise that all men are created equal and that no one has a right to rule over another man except by that mans consent, however that is developed. That is why we believe in the defense of the United States, that is why we believe in life, that is why we believe in the freedom of being able to do whatever you want with your own money. By contrast, liberals believe they are God. They want to create utopias on earth. They want to be the ones doing the directing, being the czars, the dictators, the tyrants, because they think they can run our lives better than we can.What do you think, caller? Lamb quickly asked. I think its very sad, the caller replied, responding to Coulters trademark inanity. And make no mistake—Coulter was in top form this morning. Earlier, the queen of major kooky-con pundits had opined about Big Major Dems:
COULTER: What I expected the Democratic Party to do, and sort of hoped they would do: Have a big party with the remaining sane members of the party—Zell Miller, Pat Caddell, Lieberman, the old Gephardt—get them together, be very careful about who else you let in the room—No, no, no, Barbara Boxer! No, no meeting here today!—and reformulate the Democratic Party as the party was, or certainly the image was, twenty years ago...Zell Miller? Hes sane. Barbara Boxer? She isnt. Later, Coulter said she didnt really disagree with the description of Howard Dean as a lunatic. He has started to believe his own nonsense and is loony left-wing, the sage said.
ROBINSON (2/18/05): [Robinson opened with a statement about how the Democrats just cant relate. Sorry—we cant access the C-SPAN video, so well proceed from our notes. Well insert the full quotes when were able.]At the three-minute mark, it was more of the same—Republicans get it better than Democrats. Of course, theres plenty to criticize about the Dems, and theres no reason why a liberal scribe shouldnt do so. But as Robinsons hour dragged along, we began to wonder if hed ever say anything negative about any Republican! At the 18-minute mark, for example, he echoed Coulter in tearing down Boxer (along with Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi). (They cant disagree without being disagreeable, the fierce liberal more-or-less said.) And out in the country, C-SPAN viewers were picking up this liberals odd vibe. At the 14-minute mark, a viewer puzzled over Robinsons claim that the GOP pays more attention to Hispanic voters than the Dems. At the 23-minute mark, a conservative caller praised his outlook, saying that, unlike most liberals, Robinson really was quite objective. Indeed, the scribe criticized Dems and liberals throughout. At the 31-minute mark, for example, a conservative caller said that Dems seem to think that whites are superior; Robinson said he agreed in part! Three minutes later, it was time to bash Howard Dean again—and to say, for at least the third time, that Republicans just seem to understand the United States better than Dems do.
By now, we were more than half-way through the hour, and Mr. Robinson—the fierce Post liberal—still hadnt said a single word that was critical of Republicans or conservatives. Indeed, the fierce Post liberal seemed to be troubled by nothing the Bush Admin had ever done. At the 27-minute mark, for example, Lamb gave Robinson a direct chance to criticize reigning Bush honcho Karl Rove. Nothing doing! Robinson avoided Lambs question about Roves honesty, and ended up making complimentary statements about policy e-mails the GOP writes. (Such work is well researched and well argued, the fierce liberal said.) Good Lord! What kind of liberal could go on TV without a single complaint about Bush? Easy—the kind of liberal the mainstream press loves. The kind of liberal who blames Dems for everything, who thinks that Karl Rove is a model.
Finally, after 39 minutes, Robinson criticized a major Republican. He did so only when pushed by Lamb, and he dragged his feet every step of the way. It was his only complaint about Reps all day long. Because his remarks were so revealing, well examine them closely tomorrow.
TOMORROW: What kind of liberal loves Condi Rice but simply cant take Barbara Boxer?
SUMMERS BREEZE MAKES THEM OPINE: Weve avoided comment on the Larry Summers Show, an HBO series-in-the-making now being piloted up at Harvard. But a striking post in Fridays Tapped does deserve your attention. Garance Franke-Ruta starts off with an accurate point; she notes that it was Summers choice to be provocative in his now-famous speech. But after that, the outraged pundit turns Night into Day in her effort to trash All Things Summers. In particular, she savages Summers for the outrageous way he chose to insult his audience:
FRANKE-RUTA (2/18/05): Summers went on to say that he specifically chose to talk about "the issue of women's representation in tenured positions in science and engineering ... not because that's necessarily the most important problem or the most interesting problem, but because it's the only one of these problems that I've made an effort to think in a very serious way about.Kill the pig! According to Franke-Ruta, Summers insulted the audience right off the bat, doubting the significance of precisely the topic their conference was convened to discuss.
Now, if that's not a way to insult the audience right off the bat, I don't know what is. The conference, after all, was on precisely the topic Summers doubted the significance of, and so presumably most of the attendees thought the topic both interesting and important. Having thus primed his audience, Summers proceeded to tell them—repeatedly—that he thought—after having seriously considered this problem—that the greatest obstacle facing women in the sciences was very likely their own biology.
Well offer a bit of advice to Franke-Ruta, a youngster still finding her way in the world: The next time you completely invert what a public figure has said, try not to link to his actual comments! Because uh-oh! Franke-Ruta did link to the text of the Summers speech. And heres what the gentleman actually said, starting with his third sentence:
SUMMERS: There are many aspects of the problems you're discussing and it seems to me they're all very important from a national point of view. I'm going to confine myself to addressing one portion of the problem, or of the challenge we're discussing, which is the issue of women's representation in tenured positions in science and engineering at top universities and research institutions, not because that's necessarily the most important problem or the most interesting problem, but because it's the only one of these problems that I've made an effort to think in a very serious way about.Which part of they're all very important from a national point of view doesnt Franke-Ruta understand? As anyone can see, Summers began his speech the old-fashioned way—by pandering hard to his audience. According to Summers, all the problems they were discussing were very important from a national point of view. Why would he focus on only one of those problems? Not because it was more important than the other problems, all of which were very important. Summers said that hed focus on only one of those problems because it was the only one he had actively studied.
In short, Summers didnt insult his audience, or denigrate the importance of the topic at issue. Quite the contrary—he said that his topic, like all the topics discussed at the forum, was of the highest importance. Franke-Ruta completely inverted what Summers had said in the very text to which she had linked. But boy oh boy, did it ever feel good! By the time Franke-Ruta finished her screed, the arrogant Summers had insulted his audience—a group to which he actually pandered.
Why do we cite this War Is Peace-style performance by Franke-Ruta? For this reason: The inversion of reality Franke-Ruta displays is much more typical, in recent decades, of pseudo-conservative agitprop. Liberals, centrists, Dems and progressives should aggressively reject such performance. On the simplest level, of course, its insulting when readers are so baldly misled—when a public figures words are so grossly inverted. But more important, this isnt the way for libs and centrists to regain traction in the national debate. Pseudo-con pundits treat you like rubes: Dems and liberals will start to gain ground when they convince the public of this decades-old fact. (Most people dont like being treated like fools.) But how can we challenge the right-wings rubistry if we afford this kind of thing an honored place in our own ranks?
For the record, Franke-Ruta is hardly alone when she offers this wild, absurd reaction to this trivial part of the Summers speech. Many pundits have played the fool as they rail at the vile mans deep perfidy. In yesterdays New York Times, for example, the outraged editors, shaking their fists, charged Summers with intellectual clownistry:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (2/20/05): Whatever Dr. Summers was doing at the conference, it had nothing to do with serious intellectual inquiry. "I don't think anybody actually has a clue" was one operative phrase. "I don't remember who had told me" was another. It was every woman's nightmare of what a university president thinks privately about equal opportunity.If that idiocy doesnt have Gail Collins name on it, then weve misremembered the halcyon days when Collins used her spot at the Times to help get Candidate Bush elected through brainless attacks against Gore (for one example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/04, with links to earlier reports). But how inane were yesterdays comments? Heres the text of one of the troubling comments the Times so dumbly attacked:
SUMMERS: The third kind of question is, what do we know about search procedures in universities? Is it the case that more systematic comprehensive search processes lead to minority group members who otherwise would have not been noticed being noticed? Or does fetishizing the search procedure make it very difficult to pursue the targets of opportunity that are often available arising out of particular family situations or particular moments, and does fetishizing and formalizing search procedures further actually work to the disadvantage of minority group members. Again, everybody's got an opinion; I don't think anybody actually has a clue as to what the answer is.Having raised a particular question, Summers voiced his opinion about it: No one knows the answer to that question, he opined. Of course, its no wonder that Collins found this statement confusing. In modern press culture, vacuous pundits are quite accustomed to voicing opinions when they dont know what theyre talking about. So its hardly surprising that Collins might be perplexed when Summers makes this troubling comment. But how inane will our leading journalists be as they wage their perfervid War Against Summers? Its hard to get dumber than that Times editorial. But dont worry—many pundits will try. (Examples to follow.)
So go ahead, readers: Gaze on The Peerless Journalistic Leaders who fight your spin-wars against reigning conservatives! In todays examples, you have Franke-Ruta, baldly misstating, and Collins, laughably playing the fool. If you dont yet know why conservative spin is ascendant in your political culture, then take a look at the kind of people carrying your banner into these wars. Well offer more on the laughable state of our liberal leadership all this week. But you can take it straight to the bank: Liberals and centrists cant hope to prosper if we keep marching off to war behind such hapless leaders. If liberals and centrists hope to prosper, many of our famous leaders will have to be thrown in the sea.