Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: Liberals bungled the Dan Rather mess. But Flavia Colgan (almost) got it right
Daily Howler logo
BUNGLING RATHER (PART 1)! Liberals bungled the Dan Rather mess. But Flavia Colgan (almost) got it right: // link // print // previous // next //

THE NEXT SEVERAL WEEKS: MSNBC is a deliberate disaster. Last night’s Scarborough Country was pure propaganda from beginning to end, and Scarborough’s session with The Nation’s John Nichols was a repulsive disgrace. Meanwhile, Hardball’s Chris Matthews pretended to wonder why Al Gore won’t get in the next White House race. Marie Cocco, a major “liberal,” also pretended that she didn’t know. Rick Kaplan puts this mess on the air. All Americans should tell him to stop.

But many Americans won’t tell him to stop—especially those careerist “liberals” who want to appear on his gong-show programs. Why did Cocco play dumb last night? It’s time we all got clear on such questions. We’ll pursue them for the next several weeks.

In the meantime, don’t miss the pattern involved here. Cocco is excellent on policy matters. She only plays dumb when it comes to the press corps—the press corps which drives her career. At THE HOWLER, we’re sick of seeing the public played for fools by such self-dealing “liberal” pundits—the kind for whom Nick Confessore invented those clownish, uplifting excuses (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/05). We plan to name names, quote texts, and pose direct questions over the next several weeks. And of course, since the liberal web is devoted to full-throated discourse, we’re sure that we’ll get straight replies.

BUNGLING RATHER (PART 1): Uh-oh! CBS had blundered badly, basing a critical report about Bush on shaky documents it couldn’t authenticate. Result? All across cable, pseudo-con pundits began to scream loud: Liberal bias! But uh-oh! In early January, CBS’ outside panel filed its report on the Rather-gate mess; among other things, they said they couldn’t prove that CBS had been driven by such bias. Pseudo-con hacks all knew that was wrong. On January 13, for example, eternally-scripted pseudo-author Bob Kohn complained long and loud in Scarborough Country. Like the rest of his inane cohort, he knew the prevailing script:

KOHN (1/13/05): Well, you know, their insiders have said there`s bias in the mainstream media! You have had Bernard Goldberg on your show all the time, and he talks about the bubble that these people live in. I am just a consumer of the news. And I don`t know these people. I don`t know what is going through their head. But, forensically, if you read, like, the New York Times or you watch CBS News and you watch what happened on this Rather-gate affair, I don`t think you can come to any other conclusion than the mainstream media is simply injecting their political beliefs into the news.
“Forensically,” you couldn’t come to any other conclusion! If you read the New York Times, you know it’s driven by liberal bias! And if you watch the CBS Evening News, you just know the same thing about them.

Indeed, for many Americans, “liberal bias” may have seemed like an obvious conclusion. After all, Americans have heard this cry again and again, over the course of the past forty years; scripted screamers like Scarborough and Kohn recite it as other men breathe. To scripted pundits of the pseudo-con right, every story seems to prove it. And in the weeks which followed CBS’ report, the familiar tale was shouted widely. The cry was heard all over talk radio. Scripted pundits screamed it on cable. Only rarely did Big Mainstream Pundits present a coherent reply.

But uh-oh! A liberal pundit was visiting Scarborough Country with Kohn, and she did have a coherent reply to the screams of liberal bias. Flavia Colgan was in-country this evening—and the puzzling pundit baffled Kohn when she started out saying this:

COLGAN (1/13/05): Well, I think that there is a bias sometimes, but I think there`s a bias on the Republican side, too.

I mean, when the Judith Millers of the world were impersonating stenographers, taking the Bush line hook—everything they gave them and just printing it, were these people “liberal biased?” When 60 Minutes went after Bob Kerrey, Democratic senator, a couple years ago in a complete hit piece, showing him to be a war criminal, with only one person saying as such, was that “liberal bias?”

I think it goes both ways. And I think it`s too simplistic to say that.

“I think it goes both ways,” Colgan said, citing cases where major news orgs had pimped for Bush or trashed major Dems. In Scarborough Country, of course, this is rank heresy. Treat yourself to a good, solid laugh as you read Kohn’s startled reply:
KOHN: She is accusing Judith Miller of being pro-Bush? I don`t understand where that`s coming from.
No, it doesn’t get dumber than Scarborough Country, where they film Deliverance II every night. But so what? These half-witted pundits are pure savants when it comes to reciting Official Con Scripts. And they’ve shouted out “liberal bias” for years—generally without any well-schooled response from mainstream or liberal pundits.

But uh-oh! Colgan continued to fight the good fight in Scarborough Country this evening. Soon, she moved beyond her Miller reference, citing other familiar cases where the press corps had trashed major Dems:

SCARBOROUGH: Did you not see the interview with Dan Rather with George Bush Sr.?

COLGAN: I did see it. And I also saw mainstream media lacerating Clinton, going after Gore, story after story that he “invented the Internet.” I saw them putting Swift Boat veterans —the New York Times reported that the day after the ad dropped, when the vast majority of that stuff in those ads were discredited by documentary evidence.

Uh-oh! Colgan began to do the unthinkable—she began to provide a list of cases in which the press inaccurately beat up on Dems! And soon, she came close to telling a basic truth about her host himself. Careful Colgan! You were close to saying the dirty words you can’t say on cable TV:
COLGAN: I am just saying, a lot of stories go on the air that are not checked and rechecked the way that they should be. And the hypocrisy of this is that this is some sort of “unprecedented scandal,” while we have the president of the United States spending my tax dollars—

SCARBOROUGH: We`re talking about media, not the president. Fight about the president tomorrow night.

COLGAN: Of course, because you want to talk about—that`s what Republicans do. You stonewall and you talk about the issues you want.

SCARBOROUGH: I stonewall? You know what you are doing? You are changing the subject. Flavia, this is starting to sound like Crossfire. And Crossfire is getting canceled, so we better leave it there.


SCARBOROUGH: We`ll see you, Flavia. Thanks for your time.

There are a lot of bungled stories, she said. And then: “You talk about the issues you want!” And yes—when Colgan voiced that dead-on claim, discussion was quickly aborted.

Colgan’s performance wasn’t perfect this night—in changing the subject to Bush and tax dollars, she did briefly seem to evade, for example—but for cable TV, it came awfully close. And she came close to stating an awful truth when she made that accusation against Scarborough: You pick and choose the stories you like, and use them to fool your trusting viewers! You’re simply playing your viewers for fools! Careful, Colgan! You can’t say those words on cable TV and expect to continue your tenure as pundit! But Colgan was coming close to voicing this truth when her host brought her time to an end. And when she spoke about Clinton and Gore, she began to voice the obvious reply to his Country’s inane propaganda.

They don’t just bungle on Bush, Colgan said. They viciously bungled on Clinton and Gore! And yet, most cable viewers have never heard those obvious facts discussed on TV. Indeed, even most American liberals have never heard much discussion about the press corps’ treatment of Clinton and Gore. Reason? Careerist pundits—people like Cocco—know that you simply don’t talk about that. And careerist climbers—people like Nick Confessore—know that you don’t go there either. Which helps explain why the liberal world has bungled Dan Rather so grossly.

All week long, we’ll discuss the ways the liberal world bungled Rather and his dumb-ass report. Quick hint: Scarborough plays his viewers for fools—but that’s the way “liberal” careerists treat you! Here’s the question we’ll finally ask: Do you ever get tired of such treatment?

TOMORROW—PART 2: One liberal pundit defended Dan Rather. But why would a liberal do that?

THAT OTHER CONCLUSION: Pseudo-con pseudo-pundit Bob Kohn knew what he’d been booked to proclaim. “If you read the New York Times...I don`t think you can come to any other conclusion than the mainstream media is simply injecting their political beliefs into the news,” he said. Of course, Kohn claimed that the Gotham Times was injecting liberal beliefs into news. If he wants to draw that other conclusion, we’d suggest he read this morning’s piece by spin-soaked Times reporter David Rosenbaum.

Rosenbaum tries to explain the metaphysics of the Social Security trust fund. In so doing, he injects pseudo-con spin into the news from beginning to end. Most comical is a silly claim which comes near the start of his piece:

ROSENBAUM (3/7/05): “The Social Security trust fund has produced more bad public discussion than any other budget entity,'' said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office.

The confusion is frustrating to Republicans who side with Mr. Bush.

Holtz-Eakin, a Republican, is right on one point—the spinning of the SS trust fund has produced decades of massive confusion. But when Rosenbaum says this is “frustrating to Republicans,” he is reciting pure GOP cant. Indeed, in the very next paragraph, he quotes Republican Senator Charles Grassley saying, “The trust fund is a mirage” (fuller text below). But this silly claim has been used for years to create the sense that Social Security is about to collapse. Why should Republicans be frustrated by this confusion? The endless discussion about the trust fund has been largely shaped and driven by conservatives. Confusion has been a conservative strategy for year after year after year.

How thoroughly does Rosenbaum build his piece around basic points of pseudo-con spin? Consider just one example. In his report, he offers a detailed history of the trust fund. At one point, he explains what happened in 1983, when the payroll tax was substantially raised:

ROSENBAUM (3/8/05): [I]n 1983, with the system about to become insolvent, a commission led by Alan Greenspan proposed a series of benefits cuts and tax increases embraced by President Ronald Reagan and Congress.

These steps generated considerably more money than was needed to pay benefits, and the trust funds began to swell, first by tens and then hundreds of billions of dollars a year. This allowed Mr. Reagan and the first President Bush to present annual budgets showing much lower deficits.

The surpluses in President Bill Clinton's tenure were due in large part to the Social Security excess. Once again, under President George W. Bush, budgets are in the red. The deficit this year is projected to be $427 billion.

But Rosenbaum forgets to say what voters were told when the payroll tax was so vastly increased. Baby-boomers were told that they were submitting those extra taxes to pre-pay the cost of their eventual retirement. If politicians decide the trust fund is a mirage, then those voters were massively scammed in one of human history’s biggest financial swindles. It’s hard to know how you tell this story without including this salient fact—without including what voters were told when they began to pay those increased payroll taxes. But Rosenbaum omits this key point completely. If Kohn wants to draw that other conclusion, here is his perfect chance.

What other part of pseudo-con spin does Rosenbaum slavishly offer? Twice, he recites the following point—a scripted spin-point which is technically accurate but grossly misleading:

ROSENBAUM: Under the current structure, payroll taxes will begin falling short of what will be needed to pay benefits in 2018, according to the latest estimates by the Social Security Administration...

Once benefits exceed annual tax revenues [i.e., after 2018], the government will have to increase taxes, cut spending elsewhere or issue more bonds if it decides to pay full Social Security benefits.

This is a slavish recitation of pseudo-con spin—spin intended to reinforce the sense that the trust fund is some sort of mirage. After 2018, Rosenbaum says, the government will have to raise taxes, cut spending, or borrow more money “if it decides” to repay the money it owes to SS. We’re supposed to be startled when we realize that there’s no sack of money buried in the woods with the words “SS Trust Fund” on it. We’re supposed to feel that the money “has already been spent”—that the trust fund is just a mirage.

But this presentation is grossly misleading. In fact, whenever the government borrows money, it has to “increase taxes, cut spending elsewhere or issue more bonds” when it comes time to repay the money. It has to do that when it repays Ross Perot, and when it repays big banks in China from whom it borrows big cash. Only when the government repays SS do hacks like Rosenbaum mention this “problem.” And when they do so, they’re channeling pseudo-con spin—reciting a truncated set of facts to create the sense that the trust fund is some sort of fiction. But by Rosenbaum’s logic, Dear Readers, if the trust fund is a mirage, so is Ross Perot’s portfolio! After all, there’s no bag of money with his name on it; his money has also “already been spent.” But you’ll never see Rosenbaum type that point about what happens when we repay Perot. Reason? Pseudo-con hacks haven’t whispered the point in his ear, so he feels no inclination to type it.

Yes, if Kohn wants to draw that other conclusion, he should read today’s piece. But Kohn, of course, is a pseudo-observer. He doesn’t read the New York Times—he simply reads the scripts he’s been handed. Every time he’s sent on the air, Rick Kaplan makes a joke of your discourse.

SMOKED BY GRASSLEY: Did Rosenbaum get smoked by Grassley? Here’s the full passage, early in his piece, where he presents the great savant’s deep thoughts:

ROSENBAUM: The confusion is frustrating to Republicans who side with Mr. Bush.

''If the president can convince people how the trust fund works, we're over a hurdle,'' said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Finance Committee. ''The trust fund is a mirage, but I still have Iowans say to me, 'Where's the money?'''

But unlike a mirage, the trust fund does exist. The details are on Page 1,112 of the appendix in the president's budget for the 2006 fiscal year. What Mr. Grassley meant was that the significance of the trust fund is limited.

Rosenbaum doesn’t explain how he knows what Grassley “meant.” But what Grassley said is pure GOP cant, cant we’ve heard for year after year as pseudo-cons try to shake faith in the system. The trust fund is a legal fiction! There’s no money in the trust fund! The money has already been spent! By that standard, of course, Perot’s portfolio is also a fiction. His money has also “already been spent,” just like the SS trust fund. Simple fact: The federal government borrows more money when they pay him back, too.

For the record, Grassley is almost completely incoherent when he discusses this matter. On yesterday’s Washington Journal, he gave a caller a long reply in which he called the fund “a mirage” but also called it an “obligation” that would guarantee full benefits until 2042 (link below). We’d guess that Grassley may be sincere, but he plainly can’t explain the jumbled, confused logic of the trust fund. But then, Rosenbaum can’t explain it either. This morning, he channels one-sided Republican spin—then says that Republicans are distressed by the mess. If Kohn wants to draw that other conclusion, all he has to do is read this hapless, RNC spin-driven piece.

That link: Grassley’s rambling statement about the trust fund occurs about 27 minutes into the C-SPAN tape.