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Daily Howler: Frankly, Rich was up to his ears in the latest narrative
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FRANK RICH SPOTS A BIGOTED LIAR! Frankly, Rich was up to his ears in the latest narrative: // link // print // previous // next //

TOMORROW: A shortened “Philosopher Fridays!” And: Our ten favorite movies!

(If there's weather, we may be snowed out.}

A SEX TALE RUNS THROUGH IT: We may discuss the Times report about John McCain tomorrow. But for us (Warning! Jaundiced outlook alert!) , the following passage from Josh Marshall’s post sums up the past sixteen years of liberal/progressive/Dem Party floundering:

MARSHALL (2/21/08): I find it very difficult to believe that the Times would have put their chin so far out on this story if they didn't know a lot more than they felt they could put in the article, at least on the first go. But in a decade of doing this, I’ve learned not to give any benefits of the doubt, even to the most esteemed institutions.

Josh is very smart—a point that came home to us a few months ago when we reviewed his work from 1999 and 2000. By the way, TPM won a much-deserved Polk Award this week for its superlative work on the U.S. attorneys firing story. For Eric Alterman’s kudos, click here. We add our own congratulations for the award—and for the superlative work.

But here’s our question, a question we pose after an actual “decade of doing this.” Why on earth would a liberal, a progressive, a centrist or a Democrat still be going out of his way to praise the New York Times as one of our “most esteemed institutions?” It isn’t that everyone has to share our own jaundiced views about the Times—and just for the record, there are plenty of people at the Times who do good, even heroic work. But the Times is the paper that invented Whitewater. The Times is the paper whose editorial page drove the Clinton pseudo-scandals for so many years. The Times invented the claim about Gore and Love Story, then spent two years trashing Gore during his vile, ruthless run for the White House. The Times op-ed page has long been a vehicle for sheer lunacy—and for stunningly stupid Big Democrat-trashing. And political reporting at this strange newspaper is a stale, sad, sorry joke. Some of us may recall the paper’s “reporting” in the run to Iraq.

We’ve told you this again and again: Over the course of the past sixteen years, liberal intellectual leaders have simply refused to come to terms with the actual work that is being performed by our big, upper-class, mainstream news orgs. We refuse to see them as they are. We refuse to help citizens understand the role they play in our ludicrous, comic-book discourse. We refuse to tell citizens about the way they have savaged our greatest Dem leaders. Good God! Their “liberals” run off to tell Don Imus how fake Gore’s high-school movie is! And still, we call this paper “esteemed.” We just can’t seem to stop doing this.

“[M[ost of the piece is a rehash of a lot of older material about McCain's record,” Josh says. For ourselves, we had a different reaction, though we want to do some checking before we affirm this initial view. (Our first reaction? Much of this piece is in fact a reversal of the press corps’ Standard McCain Presentation.) But why on earth do we still insist on pretending the Times is something it isn’t? This newspaper has done massive harm in the past sixteen years. By now, though, it seems abundantly clear: Some smart people will never be able to describe this fact as it is.

FRANK RICH SPOTS A BIGOTED LIAR: The pattern has been clear for some time; you can trash Big Dems any damn way you please. If Gore can be the world’s biggest liar, why can’t the Clintons both be major racists? Liberals barely uttered a peep while Gore was endlessly trashed that way. Today, many liberals are deeply involved in pushing the race claims RE Clinton.

And so it was in Sunday’s Outlook section, when a brilliant mind-reader named Richard Thompson Ford lowered the boom on vile racist Bendixen (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/19/08). Ford could just tell what the pollster was doing when he spoke to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza. But then, the genius Frank Rich seemed to know the same thing—and he knew something else besides:

RICH (2/10/08): Last month a Hispanic pollster employed by the Clinton campaign pitted the two groups against each other by telling The New Yorker that Hispanic voters have ''not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.'' Mrs. Clinton then seconded the motion by telling Tim Russert in a debate that her pollster was ''making a historical statement.''

It wasn't an accurate statement, historical or otherwise. It was a lie, and a bigoted lie at that, given that it branded Hispanics, a group as heterogeneous as any other, as monolithic racists.

Good old Frank! As always, the man who has the worst judgment on earth knew just what he’d been seeing! Sergio Bendixen, a highly respected Dem pollster, had told “a bigoted lie,” Rich explained. And Hillary Clinton had “seconded the motion” in a subsequent debate. Presumably, she too had been trying to “pit the two groups against each other” when she backed up the “bigoted lie.”

It makes a good story—but is it true? Is it remotely fair? Is it accurate? Did Clinton really “second the motion?” You’d think a man like Rich would want to be careful when making such serious charges—the most serious charges you can make in our politics. In fact, here’s the way Clinton “seconded the motion.” She started with a simple word: No. Beyond that, note the vile way she tried to pit the two groups against each other:

RUSSERT (1/15/08): Senator Clinton, one of your pollsters was quoted in the New Yorker magazine as saying this: "The Hispanic voter has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates." Does that represent the view of your campaign?

CLINTON: No—he was making a historical statement. And obviously, what we're trying to do is to bring America together so that everybody feels like they're involved and they have a stake in the future.

This [January 15 debate] is a “black/brown” debate. We haven't actually talked about black/brown issues—I regret that. And I think that we have a lot that we can do together. You know, Tavis Smiley's "Covenant" is a great way to start. There's a lot that we should be doing. I've worked with many of the Latino groups, over many years. We've got work on education and health care. The agenda for America is the agenda for African-Americans and for Hispanics. And we need to merge that and we need to have a political system where people feel like they can vote for anybody because we're all on the same page; we're all going to make progress together.

Does that statement “represent the view of your campaign?” Russert asked. And the first word out of Clinton’s mouth was: No. She went on to suggest that Bendixen had been describing attitudes from the past—and, of course, she quickly said we want to bring people from various groups together. But somehow, when Rich heard that troubling Q-and-A, only one thought popped into his head; somehow, he thought he heard Clinton “second” “a bigoted lie.” In Rich’s hands, the whole thrust of Clinton’s remarks disappeared. He sat down and wrote what the narrative said: Someone had told a bigoted lie—and Clinton had later affirmed it.

Each person has to decide if that’s reasonable. Frankly, we think it’s sadly typical for a sad narrative whore like Rich. But that brings us back to Sergio Bendixen—and to Ford, the Post’s brilliant mind-reader.

It was once easy to call Gore a liar; now, it’s easy to call Clinton racist. But let’s look again at Lizza’s piece, and ask if it’s fair to race-trash Bendixen. Once again, we’ll suggest you disregard Lizza’s editorial comments, and focus on what was said:

LIZZA (1/21/08): On the morning after Clinton’s victory [in New Hampshire], I talked to Sergio Bendixen, one of her pollsters, who specializes in the Hispanic vote. “In all honesty, the Hispanic vote is extremely important to the Clinton campaign, and the polls have shown—and today is not a great day to cite polls—that even though she was slipping with women in Iowa and blacks in South Carolina, she was not slipping with Hispanics,” he said. “The fire wall doesn’t apply now, because she is in good shape, but before last night the Hispanic vote was going to be the most important part of her fire wall on February 5th.” The implications of that strategy are not necessarily uplifting.

When I asked Bendixen about the source of Clinton’s strength in the Hispanic community, he mentioned her support for health care, and Hispanic voters’ affinity for the Clinton era. “It’s one group where going back to the past really works,” he said. “All you need to say in focus groups is ‘Let’s go back to the nineties.’ ” But he was also frank about the fact that the Clintons, long beloved in the black community, are now dependent on a less edifying political dynamic: “The Hispanic voter—and I want to say this very carefully—has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.”

That was the end of Lizza’s report. Based on that text, the nation’s screamers—people like Ford—have offered a view that we find rather odd. Bendixen’s comment was part of a strategy, many have said—a strategy aimed at Latino voters. According to this implausible theory, here was the Clinton camp’s plan:

  1. Send a pollster few people have heard of to speak with Ryan Lizza.
  2. Wait until Lizza asks a question. Then, respond with a rather mild statement about Hispanic voters.
  3. Assume that Lizza will print the statement. Assume that others will comment.

Finally, assume that news of this remark will reach Latino voters in California and Texas. You know—the Latino voters in California and Texas who already largely support you?

If you’re inclined to think that was a strategy, we have a bridge to Bendixen’s klan meeting that we’d like to sell you.

We’re going to offer a second idea: Maybe Bendixen just answered a question! Lizza asked him why Hispanics were strong for Clinton, and he gave (at least) a three-part reply—saying that he wanted to be careful about the touchy third part of his answer. Of course, it was very unwise for Bendixen to say this to Lizza, as we’ve seen from the loud reactions. But Ford called Bendixen every name in the book—and Rich said that Clinton agreed with his statement! The narrative whores yelled race/race/race—just as they’d once yelled big liar.

According to Ford, Bendixen and Clinton were playing the race card—“whipping modern racism into a froth.” For the record, this seems especially odd coming from Ford, a high-minded thinker whose high-minded new book was recently described in the New York Times. Good grief! Here’s William Grimes’ summation of Ford’s high-minded outlook:

GRIMES (2/6/08): Mr. Ford wants to move beyond name calling and emotional point scoring. Let's reserve the word racist, he suggests, for clear-cut instances of bigotry, and address more subtle problems of racial prejudice as we do air pollution, instead of rape or murder.

''We should begin by looking at racial injustice as a social problem to be solved collectively rather than as a series of discrete wrongs perpetrated by bad people,'' he writes.

The struggle continues, but circumstances change, and so do minds. The civil rights movement, Mr. Ford argues, must now deal with the complexities of a world transformed by its successes. Retiring the race card, he suggests, would be a good first step.

“Let's reserve the word racist, he suggests, for clear-cut instances of bigotry.” But wouldn’t you know it? Eleven days after this piece appeared, Ford was yelling race/race/race, trashing a highly respected man who may have simply answered a question. But then, it was easy to use the word bigot. Frank Rich had gotten there first.

During Campaign 2000, it was amazingly easy to call Gore a liar. Now, it’s easy to call Big Dems racist. Outlook saw through Bendixen this week. But then, the Post has been quite skilled, for years, in seeing right through Phony Gore.

WE GET TO SAY IT, YOU DON’T: Before he quoted Bendixen, Lizza offered his own brilliant views about the role of race in the Dem campaign. His overall judgment proved to be wrong. But please note: In this passage, he’s basically making the same vile statement for which Bendixen was savaged:

LIZZA: [T]he fact that Obama’s campaign thinks the problem is worth further inquiry and that race has once again become the subject of widespread chatter could be an ominous development for his candidacy. The best hope for an Obama victory was to kill the race issue in the crib of Iowa and New Hampshire, both of which have overwhelmingly white electorates. Racial politics have been refreshingly absent from this campaign, partly because of the lack of diversity in the first two states and partly because Obama has never made his race central to his campaign. That’s about to change, as Nevada, with its large Hispanic population, and South Carolina, with its large black population, prepare to vote. Obama has an interest in downplaying his race in both states. There are lingering tensions between the Hispanic and black communities which he doesn’t want to inflame, and some residual skepticism among black voters concerning Obama’s electability among whites.

“There are lingering tensions between the Hispanic and black communities which he doesn’t want to inflame?” In that passage, rightly or wrongly, Lizza is basically saying what Bendixen seems to have said; due to those “lingering tensions,” some Hispanics may be disinclined to vote for an African-American. We have no idea how true that may be. But: When Lizza says it, it’s OK. When Bendixen says the same damn thing, it’s denounced as a bigoted strategy!

This haughty attitude has been on display all through this year’s discussion of race. For example, here’s the start of John Judis’ name-calling piece in The New Republic:

JUDIS (1/31/08): It would have been fine, of course, for a political scientist or a journalist to make the observation that Hillary Clinton stood little chance in the South Carolina Democratic primary running against a black candidate. And it would have raised no eyebrows if he or she drew comparisons between Barack Obama's win and Jesse Jackson's 1988 victory. But Bill Clinton is a master politician who calibrates the exact effect of his words upon an audience. And as Clinton well knew, linking an opponent to Jackson, as former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms used to do regularly in his campaigns, is a surefire way to stir some white voters up against him.

See? If a journalist say it, it’s just fine. If Clinton says it, we’ll call him a racist. And so it went in Lizza’s piece. Lizza can say there are “lingering tensions.” But when Bendixen says the same thing—well, just go read your Outlook.

WHAT YOU DON’T HEAR ABOUT THAT CARD: At that same January 15 debate, Russert asked Obama about the recent conduct of his press secretary. You haven’t heard a word about this exchange because narrative whores stick to narrative:

RUSSERT (1/15/08): In terms of accountability, Senator Obama, Senator Clinton on Sunday told me that the Obama campaign had been pushing this story-line. And true enough, your press secretary in South Carolina—four pages of alleged comments made by the Clinton people about the issue of race. In hindsight, do you regret pushing this story?

OBAMA: Well, not only in hindsight, but going forward. I think that, as Hillary said, our supporters, our staff get overzealous. They start saying things that I would not say. And it is my responsibility to make sure that we're setting a clear tone in our campaign, and I take that responsibility very seriously, which is why I spoke yesterday and sent a message in case people were not clear that what we want to do is make sure that we focus on the issues.

Now, there are going to be significant issues that we debate, and some serious differences that we have. And I'm sure those will be on display today. What I am absolutely convinced of is that everybody here is committed to racial equality—has been historically. And what I also expect is that I'm going to be judged as a candidate in terms of how I'm going to be improving the lives of the people in Nevada and the people all across the country, that they are going to ultimately be making judgments on can I deliver on good jobs at good wages; can I make sure that our home foreclosure crisis is adequately dealt with; are we going to be serious about retirement security; and are we going to have a foreign policy that makes us safe. If I'm communicating that message, then I expect to be judged on that basis. And if I'm not, then I expect to be criticized on that basis. That's the kind of campaign that we want to run and that we have run up until this point.

Good for Obama—and good for Clinton, for the later statement in which (according to Rich) she “seconded” “a bigoted lie.” But ask yourself this: How often have you heard about that four-page list which Obama regretted? It was true with Liar Gore back then, and it’s true with Racist Clinton today. Narrative whores always stick to the narrative. Everything else disappears.