WEDNESDAY, MARCH 5, 2003
A WEEK OF HOWLER HISTORY: Enjoy each episode in our week-long report:
SPINNING WOLF (PART 1): The press discovered Wolf in plain sightthen conducted a smut-laden trashing. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03.
Howler history: Spinning Wolf
SPINNING ALPHA: Four days before Michael Duffys report, the press corps watched Gore and Bradleys first debate, booing and laughing at Gore. In Time, Eric Pooley described their conduct. Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some helpless nerd, he wrote. Hotline editor Howard Mortman offered a slightly more sweeping report; according to Mortman, The media groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something. Salons Jake Tapper made it three: Thats the only time Ive ever heard the press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party at any event. The press corps misconduct was simply astounding. And four days after this startling display, Duffys report was released in Timeand the corps jeering pundits got themselves busy ginning up flaps around Wolf. They dished her a nasty sexual trashing, an ugly performance that went on for a month (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03), and they began inventing other odd claims that could be used in their trashing of Gore.
Everyone who followed Campaign 2000 was exposed to their strange, stupid spin-points. According to Every American Pundit, Naomi Wolf had told Al Gore that he had to become an alpha male. And the veeps mad genius had also told Gore that he ought to campaign wearing earth tones. Every scribe knew that these statements were trueand every scribe knew what these statements meant. They meant that Gore doesnt know who he is, they agreed, and they showed that Gore had to hire a woman to teach him how to become a man. These points were recited for a good solid monthuntil Ceci Connolly ginned Love Canal, and your press corps had a new scam to peddle.
Lets start with the claim about alpha malesa claim which is actually found in Duffys report, unlike the claim about earth tones. At one point, Duffy described a bit of advice Wolf had allegedly offered:
DUFFY: Democratic Party sources say its Wolf who, more than anyone else, has urged Gore to bare his teeth at the President he has served loyally for more than seven years. Wolf has argued internally that Gore is a Beta male who needs to take on the Alpha male in the Oval Office before the public will see him as the top dog. In private, sources say, Gore expresses an almost primal bitterness about his relationship with Clinton, contending that while he was crucial to getting the President elected in 1992, the publics disgust with Clinton now threatens his own ambitions.Your press corps quickly began pretending that Wolfs advice was disturbing and strange. Maureen Dowds clowning on November 3 captured the corps mocking tone. [W]hen a man has to pony up a fortune to a woman to teach him how to be a man, that definitely takes the edge off his top-dogginess, Dowd wrote, in the same repulsive, half-witted column where she said that Wolf had urged women to release their inner sluts. As if to prove her alpha stupidity, Wolf even phoned gong-show anthropologist Lionel Tiger, who heroically tried to walk Dowd through the deeply puzzling alpha male concept:
DOWD: Its baby biology, for heavens sake, says Lionel Tiger, the anthropologist and author of The Decline of Males. In two months the vice president has paid Naomi Wolf the annual salary of an assistant professor of zoology at a decent university to tell him something so elementary.Zowie! Such zingers rang all through the presspeddled by the dispassionate bunch who had booed and jeered Gore one week earlier.
But what advice had Wolf really offered? And was there anything strange about what she had said? In her interview with the New York Times Melinda Henneberger, Wolf addressed the alpha male flap. According to Henneberger, Wolf did mention Alpha versus Beta males, she allows, but only once, in passing. Meanwhile, Wolf noted that the point she had made was the most obvious point in the world:
HENNEBERGER: Ms. Wolf, who says she mostly writes memos for the Gore campaign about the concerns of women, and works closely with [Gores daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff] on reaching younger voters, is keenly interested in sticking up for her boss.Duh! In fact, every pundit on the face of the earth had offered some version of this truism, noting that Gorelike every VP who runs for the White Houseneeded to emerge from his presidents shadow. The comparison with Bush and Reagan in 88 had been quite widely presented. And guess what? Some pundits, like Wolf, had used colorful imagery to describe this fact of political life. All the way back in March, for example, Hardballs Chris Matthews had discussed Gores conundrum. On March 16, Matthews discussed Gores low poll numbers and how boring he was compared to Clinton. At one point, Rep. Joe Scarborough voiced a bit of conventional wisdom. Al Gores problem is that he hasnt been able to get out and speak on his own, the pol said. In reply, Matthews turned to the New Republics Nurith Aizenman. And the great man posed a sweetie-pie query:
MATTHEWS: Nurith, when is Al Gore gonna come out of that, that little caterpillar womb and become a butterfly? Whens this gonna happen?Awww! In Matthews metaphor, Gore was still in the caterpillar stage and he had to turn into a monarch. And just in case anyone missed his point, Matthews posed the very same question to Boston pol Tommy ONeill:
MATTHEWS: Tommy ONeill, when should Al Gore become a butterfly and cease being a caterpillar?And guess what? Tommy ONeill didnt waste his time psychoanalyzing Matthews metaphor. Tommy ONeill simply answered the question. Oh, I think as late as he possibly can, to be honest with you, ONeill simply said.
Maybe we should all be thankful that Wolf spoke about alphas instead of caterpillar wombs. One can imagine the way the press corps would have mocked that turn of phasealthough it would have been harder to dish the smut your pundits now showered on Wolf. But one thing is clear in this whole foolish matter. When the corps made a flap about Wolfs advice, it was discourse as dumb as our discourse can get. As Wolf noted, every pundit on the face of the earth had voiced some version of this truism. And it seemed that othersnot Wolf alonesometimes used colorful metaphors. But four days before the Wolf flap began, your press corps had sat in a crowded room, jeering, booing and laughing at Gore, and now they saw that Gores mad genius could be used to advance their tomfoolery. Dim-witted punditsHardballs Matthews a leaderbegan to rail about Wolfs strange advice. Meanwhile, they invented a flap from a lone speculation. They invented a flap about earth tones.
TOMORROW: Inventing earth tones
ALPHA SPINNER: Wolfs advice was about as obvious as a bit of advice could be. Every pundit had said that Gore needed to emerge from Bill Clintons long shadow. But on October 31, the Duffy report mentioned alpha and beta, and your pundits were off to the races. An instant example of their consummate clowning was offered by Foxs Brit Hume. On that mornings Fox News Sunday, the pundit was deeply kerflubbled:
HUME: We learn now, today, that Mr. Gore has as one of his advisers, at $15,000 a month, at least for a while, Naomi Wolf, who is sort of an interesting young woman who is tribune of sort of modern feminist psychobabble, who is said to have advised the vice president that he is the beta male to Bill Clintons alpha male in that relationship, and that its very important that he somehow reverse that in some way and then we read from the Los Angeles Times that hes casting himselfI mean, this all sounds a little strange.Poor Brit was completely confused! Moments later, he tried it again:
HUME: I think what it suggests about Al Gore isa man we all have known in one way or another for a very long time, but never any of us really known, whos always had this disconcerting difference between the public self and the rather easy-going private self, or at least personal selfthat this may be a man who doesnt know who the heck he is, doesnt have any idea who he is and is trying to find who to be.You just cant get any stupider. Humecomplaining about Wolfs alleged psychobabblequickly engaged in deep babble himself, telling the public that Gore was a man who doesnt know who the heck he is.
On this particular morning, of course, Hume was a man who didnt know what he was talking about. Wolf hadnt commented yet on Times report, and Duffys piece only included a fleeting account of what Wolf supposedly said. But because Humes comments were perfectly dumb, they had instant appeal to the rest of the corps, and as well see in the next few days, his spins were recited by everyone.