MONDAY, MARCH 10, 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
FAKE FROM THE START: Did Naomi Wolf tell Gore to wear earth tones? The nature of the charge never really came clear. As weve seen, Gore had worn the troubling tones ever since he began his campaign. (Duh. So had tens of millions of other Americans.) And Ceci Connollys articlewhich created the chargeused weasel words to a wondrous degree (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/03). Had anyone even made the charge? We would guess that the answer is no. Meanwhile, Wolf said that shed never advised Gore on wardrobe, and no one ever disputed her statement. But your pundit corps loved the pleasing new tale; Wolfs denial went down the memory hole, and the corps began to explain what the pleasing new charge really meant. It meant that Al Gore doesnt know who he is, and that Al Gore hired a woman to teach him how to be a man. To see a string of Big Pundits recite that first charge, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/7/03. For a taste of the way the latter charge played, see the sad excerpts below.
But before we get to those excerpts, lets make one thing clear: The press corps war against Gores secret guru was phony and fake from the start. Were pundits really concerned about the mad geniusthis Svengali and Rasputin, this crackpot and kook? Were Washington pundits really concerned because Gore had hired a controversial adviser? Its fairly clear that they were not, as we see from their reaction to other such gurus. For example, Bill Bradley was being advised by Cornel West; indeed, West was making TV appearances on the sanctified solons behalf. We can think of no earthly reason why West should not have been helping Bradley. But whatever one thinks of West or his views, this one thing is abundantly clear: On every page of The Cornel West Reader, one finds racial/sexual statements that are light-years farther from the mainstream than anything Wolf ever said, thought or did. But guess what? No one breathed a word about West, or flogged his controversial statements. Excerpts were pulled from Wolfs books and flogged; Wests books went unmentioned, unexplored, undecried. Double standards are rarely this clear. To all appearances, the press corps was troubled by one guru only. No other mad genius need apply.
Meanwhile, John McCain was being advised by Richard Quinn, Southern Partisan editor. Indeed, Quinn was running McCains effort in South Carolina, a crucial early stop on the tour. And what was Richard Quinn all about? In the New Republic, Benjamin Soskis described Southern Partisan as the leading journal of the neo-Confederacy movement. It was to the right of National Review but to the left of the Klan, Soskis said, quoting a reviewer:
SOSKIS: Indeed, scan the last 20 years of Southern Partisan, and youll find a gumbo of racist apologias. From a 1996 article comes the claim that slave owners ... did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves peace and happiness. In 1987 the magazine offered a vision of South African history straight from the apartheid-era textbooks: God led Afrikaners into the Transvaal, it was with God that they made their prayerful covenant when they were besieged by bloodthirsty savages on all sides. And in 1990 the journal celebrated David Duke as a candidate concerned about affirmative discrimination, welfare prolifigacy [sic], the taxation holocaust a Populist spokesperson for a recapturing of the American ideal.Soskis went on and onand on. But race-man Quinn provoked no reaction from a pundit corps deeply troubled by Wolf. What a contrast! Wolf was a thoroughly mainstream figurea former Rhodes Scholar who had penned three best-sellers, two of them chosen as New York Times notable books of the year. Richard Quinns work was so far from the mainstream that you couldnt even see it from there. But Wolf appeared on the radar screen four days after Gore and Bradleys first debatethe debate at which your Washington press corps groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something (Howard Mortman). To all appearances, that press corps had made a decision on Gore, and Wolf became a tool they could use in their war against his campaign. Result? They pretended that Wolf was a bimbo, an oddball, a silly girl author, and they played her as a troubling mad genius. But there was no such reaction to West or Quinn. West shouldnt be lumped in with Quinn, of course, but pundits could have had a field day pulling excerpts from his and Quinns work. They didnt do thatflogging Wolf onlyfor reasons that are perfectly obvious.
How phony was the trashing of Wolf? The flap about salary tells you. In Time, Duffy noted that the Gore campaign was paying Wolf $15,000 a month. Worried pundits ranted and railed, pretending to be shocked by the figure. Richard Cohen called the salary astounding. The Washington Times called it astronomical. Purring coyly, Maureen Dowd opened her inner slut column with this:
DOWD: I will say this in Naomi Wolfs favor: Youve got to respect a woman who gets a vice president to pay her a salary higher than his own.Who could believe such a salary? On the November 6 Capital Gang, Margaret Carlson brought up the troubling sum. And so did Al Hunt. And so did Bob Novak. And then, Mark Shields brought the salary up too. (Thats right. All four panelists independently mentioned Wolfs troubling salary!) Indeed, Wolfs salary was about six times the national average for a household, a troubled Chris Matthews revealed. Meanwhile, all female pundits recited a script which Kate OBeirne pushed on Inside Politics:
OBEIRNE: Apparently [Wolf is] a very well paid consultant to the Gore campaign, Judy. Reports are that since January, shes been paid $15,000 a month. And when the campaign tries to explain exactly what she was doing on behalf of the candidate, were told things like, she was helping to select wardrobe and introducing him to those warmer colors. I would have picked out ties for the candidate for a lot less than $15,000 a month, Judy, had he asked me. If only Id known they paid that well.Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Of course, the campaign had said no such thing about Wolf. But make no mistakeWashington pundits were deeply concerned about Wolfs very troubling salary. For weeks, puzzled pundits wondered how Gore could have paid his bimbo writer so much.
But just how fake was the salary flap? Two months after the Wolf story died, South Carolina came center stage. In USA Today, Jim Drinkard penned a note about Quinns monthly haul:
DRINKARD (2/8/00): [Quinn] publishes a quarterly magazine, Southern Partisan, that celebrates Southern history and Civil War heritage. McCain pays Quinn $20,000 a month for advice.Say what? John McCain was paying Quinn substantially more than Gore had paid Wolf! Wow! Naomi Wolfs astronomical pay had been dwarfed by the pay dished to Quinn! But what was the outcome of Drinkards report? You guessed it. Your pundit corps didnt say a word about the salary McCain was paying (links below). Could it possibly be more plainthat the flap over Wolf was a fraud from the start? In truth, it is almost impossible for normal people to grasp the dishonesty of our modern press elite. But the trashing of Wolf was a chance to observe this cohort in all of its fakery.
Had Wolf told Gore to behave like an alpha? Had Wolf told Gore that he ought to wear earth tones? The questions involved were absurdly trivial, and there was no real evidence suggesting she had. But no matterthe fever didnt break for a month. On November 21, for example, Tim Russert interviewed George W. Bush on Meet the Press. In the course of the hour-long session, Russert mentioned Wolf two separate times, in contexts that had nothing to do with advice she was even alleged to have given. For example, heres how he brought up abortion:
RUSSERT: And were back, talking to Governor George W. Bush. Were live from Austin, Texas. Let me ask you, Governor, about the issue of abortion because Ms. Wolf and others suggest that perhaps sometimes abortion may be an alternativeThis reference to Wolf was completely gratuitous. No one ever suggested that Wolf helped Gore form his abortion policy. And how fake and phony were Russerts insinuations? In fact, Wolf had become a controversial feminist because of her moderate views on abortion. Pro-choice herself, she had argued that feminists should take the moral problems of abortion more seriously. And she had argued that pro-life women should be welcomed into the feminist movement. But no matterpundits were simply obsessed with Gores sexpot counselor, and they wouldnt stop bringing her up. In fact, the day after Russerts interview, the fever blisters popped open again. Michiko Kakutani penned a lengthy, page-one New York Times piece about the books of the five major White House contenders. In her roughly 800 words on Gores Earth in the Balance, Kakutani mentioned Wolf two separate times; made a third reference to Gores recent efforts to wear more casual, earth-toned clothes; and made a fourth reference to the two alpha males in [Gores] life (his father and Bill Clinton). Every time Kakutani mentioned Gore, she quickly referenced Naomi Wolf too. Although Kakutani wrote archly of Gores curious affinity with his feminist consultant, Naomi Wolf, it was Kakutani whose obsessive focus could best be described in such terms.
The spinning of Wolf went on for a monthand in the process, that booing, jeering, laughing press corps invented new tools for its War Against Gore. Earth tone and alpha male became permanent emblemsiconic phrases a scribe could use whenever he wished to mock Gore. And routinely, journalists played the shrink; for example, a November 15 Weekly Standard article explained the Wolf matter by saying that Gore shows a keen need to be taken as a very cool guy by younger women. (The evidence? [I]t is hard to remember seeing Gore quite so aglow as when his nomination was seconded at the 1996 convention by Michela Alioto, a 28-year-old wheelchair-bound beauty. Oh. Christopher Caldwell put his name on this sleaze, for those who keep track of such matters.) The same article said, of Gores troubling wardrobe, We all know that the look hes attained is that of the aging gigolo prowling for young talent. And oh yeswhy had Gores campaign explained that Wolf was working in New York with Gores daughter? Wolfs friendship with Gores daughter Karenna is invoked to ward off speculation about any possible wandering eye, Caldwell wrote. This, of course, was Caldwells attempt to encourage such smutty speculation.
Of course, no one played the fool like Matthews. On Hardball, the excitable man kept playing the shrink, saying that Gore doesnt have his gender straight and was turning himself into this protean new person, this new man-woman, whatever the hell hes trying to become. (In his nationally syndicated column, Cal Thomas said that Gores theme song will be Victor/Victoria, with Al Gore in the lead role of a man playing a woman playing a man.) Indeed, the Hardball harlequin loved it smutty, as in this November 5 session:
MATTHEWS: Tish Durkin, what hurts worse? Al Gores assault on his masculinity because hes been caught hiring thisI call her the political equivalent of Viagra, andSadly, Matthews really did call Wolf thatthis was the third time he had told his viagra joke just that week. But then, there was nothing too stupid or smutty for Matthews. On November 12, the great pundit asked if the number of buttons on Gores three-button suits might have some hidden sexual meaning. What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons? the brilliant scribe asked. Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants. I dont know what it means. And no, there was no sign that Matthews was joking (and yes, this is the way we elected our president). In fact, he asked guests to explain Gores three-button suits on the evenings of November 4, 10, 11, 12 and 24, creating inane discussion each time. But though Matthews routinely hosted Big Scribes, no journalist was willing to challenge his assault on the public discourse. Durkins Oh, please was as far as it went. (Did you ever see a single profile which accurately represented the nature of Matthews work?) Meanwhile, visitors to Hardball were given free range. On November 4, for example, Gordon Liddy railed against Wolf. Clearly, the man knew his spin-points:
LIDDY: If you dont know who the hell you are, if youre not comfortable with yourself, ifif youve got a girl trying to teach you how to be a real man, how in the worldI mean, do we want a person like that for the leader of the free world? I dont think so.That girl, of course, was 37 years old, a former Rhodes Scholar (and a wife and a mother) who had written two notable books of the year. Nor had she ever been hit by lightning while she sat rubbing her thigh in a tree. But the angry little fellows who now run your press corps are determined to recite angry tales:
MATTHEWS: This is a strangethis is a strange guru for a grown-up guy to be listening toGordon Liddy, youre great, Matthews said.
Two conservatives deserve a word of praise because they spoke on Wolfs behalf. On November 2, William Kristol spoke up right on Hardball, praising Wolf as an intelligent woman who had written three serious books, further noting that Dick Morris, who did after all help Bill Clinton get himself re-elected, says that a lot of Naomi Wolfs ideas were pretty good. On November 7, William Safire spoke on Meet the Press, describing Wolf as an intelligent, good advisor who had probably provided Gore with some solid advice about how to keep the gender gap going for the Democrats. But try to find the liberal pundit who dared to challenge the trashing of Wolf. The sliming went on for a solid month, and your good guy pundits cowered and trembledor took part in the trashing themselves. And of course, no one ever said a word about Matthews repulsive, shameless conduct. Matthews continues to lie in the face of other beta scribes to this day.
How inane would the Wolf frenzy be? Four weeks after the nonsense began, the Washington Post was still at it. In the papers November 28 Sunday magazine, columnist Marc Fisher showcased his skill with an Approved Standard Story. Fisher, reciting Approved Standard Spin-Points, reached all the Standard Approved Press Conclusions:
FISHER: [W]hen Al Gore sneaks around and spends $15,000 a month to hire an oddball like Naomi Wolf we have two choices: We can say Gores a good man whos been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.Al Gore doesnt know who he is. Meanwhile, Fishers hyperbole was simply astounding. Gore, who would soon receive more than fifty million votes for president, was said to be wearing a suit that is alien to virtually every American. (The problem? Gores suit was brown.) And Gore, of course, was wearing the suit because Naomi Wolf told him he must. (Fisher didnt mention Wolfs flat denial.) Need we make one more observation? When it turned out that John McCain was spending $20,000 a month to hire an oddball like Richard Quinn, the scripted Fisher didnt say Boo. Your press corps is made up of fakers and fraudsand they know they must type Approved Scripts.
In conclusion, well say it again: We do regret dragging Wolfs good name back through all this slime, smut and nonsense. But Americans need to understand the way their press corps actually works, and this month-long flap was one of the most remarkable episodes in Campaign 2000. Naomi Wolf was a thoroughly mainstream figure. She had been praised for the remarkably prescient (mainstream) advice she had given the Clinton campaign four years earlier. Indeed, she had become a controversial feminist largely by arguing from the center, not from the fringe. There was absolutely nothing strange about her employment by Gore.
But the Washington press corps had booed and jeered Gore, and they were looking for new ways to boo and jeer more. Its very hard for a normal person to grasp the depth of this cohorts dysfunction. But they displayed it proudly with their sliming of Wolfand their oddball performance continues.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Oh, that troubling salary! When Drinkard published Richard Quinns salary, we complimented him for his work, then wondered if pundits would raise a big fuss. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/00. Five weeks later, we had our answer. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/15/00.
SLIMING HEINZ: Lets face ityour press corps is troubled by a certain kind of woman. Latest example? Try to believe that the Washington Post published this weird editorial about Teresa Heinz, John Kerrys wife. On a certain level, this is rather trivial, the Post says of its vacuous piece. Guess you havent come such a long way, baby, the paper smarmily adds. And of course, the Post is only naturally reminded of the two-decade-old example of Hillary Rodham. People who write editorials like this cant get trivia (or HRC) off their minds. That includes worthless, stale trivia left over from the pre-Reagan era.
We especially like the way the Post pretends that it writes from a feminist perspective. As weve told you, no one on earth is more disingenuous than the fakers who make up your press corps. And make no mistakeyour press corps is very unhappy with Heinz. When Kerry appeared on Meet the Press in December, Tim Russert had the stones to say this:
RUSSERT (12/1/02): Your wife is very outspoken, very opinionated. Is she ready for the ordeal of this campaign?Russert wasnt on camera, but didnt seem to be joking. So lets see: Russert has dared to ask if Kerry will muzzle his wife. The Post has rudely addressed her as baby. And as weve noted, the Post is concerned that Teresa Heinz refers to her late husband, John Heinz, as her husband (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/10/03). There is simply no end to the serial oddness of this dysfunctional crew.
What kind of woman does your press corps despise? Women who are famously outspoken and independent, to use the Posts revealing phrase. What that really means, of course, is this: Your Washington press corps doesnt like women who are smarter, more accomplished, and more attractive than they are. And they dont like women who work outside their own crabbed, confined, grasping circles. Result? The sliming they aimed at Naomi Wolf is now being seamlessly transferred to Heinz. And the reasons for this are perfectly clear. In every way, Wolf and Heinz can both run laps around the cramped climbers who make up your press corps. Your press corps doesnt like women like thisand theyre not shy about letting them know it.
Why does the corps dislike Heinz so? Because Teresa Heinz isnt like them. When Heinz and Kerry became engaged, the Boston Globes John Robinson wrote a detailed profile. The crabbed, climbing press corps just doesnt like women whose experiences end up sounding like this:
ROBINSON (5/10/95): Today I feel American, says Heinz, who was born and raised in Mozambique, the middle of three children. Her father was a Portuguese doctor in the former Portuguese colony and her mother was a housewife. Heinz became a US citizen when she turned 30.But guess what? Your press corps hates people who had a rich play lifepeople who figure out things on their own. Your press corps is happy with crabbed, empty peoplepeople who type Approved Scripts. And they simply despise brilliant people like Heinz, who learned five languages while in college, went to the UN as a young linguist, and ended up marrying John Heinz. (When she did that, it made him her husband.)
Luckily, other people have better judgment. When John Heinz died in a plane crash in 1991, Teresa Heinz began running the familys foundation. Her work in Pittsburgh won her the title of Saint Teresa, Robinson said:
ROBINSON: [Her work at the foundation] has earned Heinz the title of Saint Teresa, as she was called in a W magazine profile, and which has now stuck. It was the first reference Pittsburgh Mayor Thomas J. Murphy made of her when he was interviewed for this story and, from the point of view of many in Pittsburgh, saint may not be an elevated enough title.But now Heinz, like Wolf, is being slimed. Russert suggests that she needs to be muzzled; the Post calls her baby in a stupid, mocking ed. As weve said, its very hard for normal people to grasp how disturbed our press elite is. Inner voices swear that it just cant be so. But it is so, readersits been so for some timeand we continue to pay dearly for it.