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RIGHT DOWN BROADWAY! Does Broad have politics? We don’t know. But the question does have to be asked: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MARCH 16, 2007

THE CULTURE OF VOTER BAMBOOZLEMENT: A truly fascinating exchange took place on Wednesday evening’s Countdown. Keith Olbermann and (who else?) Richard Wolffe were discussing the Bush Admin’s recent claims that the firing of the those eight U. S. attorneys was a common type of action. Let’s start with Olbermann’s question:
OLBERMANN (3/14/07): The president’s claim today in Mexico that firings like this are, as he said, a customary practice by the presidents. In fact, in historical fact, it’s extremely rare for even one U.S. attorney to be dismissed during a president’s term, let alone eight of them. [Note: This seems like a bit of an overstatement.] This is something that the ousted chief of staff to Mr. Gonzales, Kyle Sampson, himself commented on in one of those e-mails that came out in the document dump yesterday.

And this question is thus meant literally. When the spin like that is more easily dismissed and disproved than if you were to lie about whether today is Wednesday or it’s Tuesday, who are they trying to fool with that?
That was a stunningly clueless question. But then, so was Wolffe’s reply:
WOLFFE (continuing directly): I have no idea why they’re trying to use this line. It’s so patently untrue. You know, they’d be better off saying, “Listen, these are the reasons we fired these people.” I think the hearings are going to go there. What were their personnel failures, their management failures? Or at the very least to say, “Listen, we have different standards. We are the Bush administration. We are going to do things our own way.”

But this idea that there was somehow a precedent, that every other president has done this, is patently false.
Good God! Because the statement was “patently untrue,” Wolffe had “no idea” why they would use it! But then, Olbermann had voiced a similar thought. “Who are they trying to fool with that?” he wondered, assuring us that he wanted his question taken literally. As he did so, he helped us see the central breakdown of our modern political culture.

Good grief! Who are they trying to fool with that? We got the answer in the next morning’s papers. In the Post, a lengthy editorial explained how misleading the Bush Admin’s various claims have been. But in the Times, we got something totally different. In the Times, we got the following letter, from a bamboozled citizen:

To the Editor:

Where was the outrage when Janet Reno dismissed all 93 United States attorneys when President Bill Clinton took office in 1993?

P— A—
San Francisco, March 14, 2007
That isn’t the particular statement Bush had made—the particular statement to which Olbermann was reacting. But readers! This San Franciscan is “the person they’re trying to fool”—he and millions of people just like him! And as we can see from his letter, the Bush Admin has been quite successful in their attempt to bamboozle their tribe on this ongoing matter. Indeed, many Times readers will read this letter and become convinced, in their turn, that the Bush Admin’s actions may have been fairly typical—indeed, may have been rather tame compared to what others have done in the past.

But then, that letter from San Francisco is quite unremarkable; we all have lived in the Land of Bamboozlement since the earlier 1990s. Our politics has run on bogus stories—bogus stories which are widely believed by millions of bamboozled citizens. Such bogus stories drove the politics of the Clinton years. (Indeed, the bogus story this letter-writer conveys was invented by the RNC in March 1993.) And, in 1999 and 2000, these bogus stories finally changed the world’s history. Two years worth of invented tales about Gore finally sent George Bush to the White House. Once there, he started the world’s dumbest war. The world’s history has changed due to that.

In short, that letter-writer’s state of bamboozlement is in no way surprising. Indeed, in the past fifteen years, the RNC has virtually perfected its skill at ginning up silly, bogus claims which thoroughly misinform voters. What is remarkable is the utter cluelessness put on display here by Wolffe and Olbermann. On which planet have these dandies been dwelling? In this exchange, they seem to be completely unaware of the basic structure of our modern politics. They don’t seem to know the following fact: For at least fifteen years, the patently bogus, invented tale has been the basic unit of American thought.

Who are they trying to fool with that? It’s simply amazing that Olbermann asked—and that Wolffe couldn’t (or wouldn’t) answer. Wolffe responded like a rational man—but our politics long ago ceased to be rational. In 1993, Bob Dole huffed and puffed about Bill Clinton’s “March massacre”—and only now, some fourteen years later, is the Post writing an editorial to challenge this point of bamboozlement. And journalistic leaders—Wolffe and Olbermann—seem to have no idea how this game works.

Let’s explain, for those who have been off the planet. (Or in England. Or off talking sports.) In 1992 and 1993, the RNC began making up sh*t about Clinton. In 1999 and 2000, they spent two years making up sh*t about Gore. Millions of people believe these fake stories, because our liberal elites are too dainty—and too stupid—to go to the trouble of contradicting them. And our big journalists scratch their heads, wondering why they would tell us such tales! JA from San Fran wrote the Times the next day. Keith and Richard! Your answer is there!

ANOTHER EXAMPLE: “Who are they trying to fool” with factual claims “which are easily disproved?” Good God! They’re trying to fool the voters—and they’ve done so quite successfully, for at least the past fifteen years. In 1999, for example, they began to invent the following claim: they began to say that Hillary Clinton invented the claim that she followed the Yankees as a child because she’d decided to move to New York. In fact, this claim was “easily disproved;” the Washington Post had reported and explained young Rodham’s dual baseball loyalties in two separate profiles, in 1992 and 1993. But so what? In the past few weeks, the stupid old story was widely pimped once again. And, for reasons we have discussed here for years, millions of voters believed it.

Who are they trying to fool? Dudes! They’re trying to fool the voters. Why do they think they can get away with it? Dudes! Because they know about newsmen like you!

Go ahead—reread that exchange. As you do so, you can see the central breakdown of our broken politics.

OUR SERIES CONTINUES: In what follows, we continue to look at William’s Broad’s recent, bungled report about Gore and global warming. For Part 1 of this ongoing series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/14/07. For Part 2, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/15/07.

RIGHT DOWN BROADWAY: Does the New York Times’ William Broad “have politics?” (Or something like politics?) We don’t have the slightest idea—but David Roberts seems to think that he does. Roberts, an environmental writer, said this at The Huffington Post when he responded to Broad’s report about Gore and global warming:
ROBERTS (3/13/07): This may be the worst, sloppiest, most dishonest piece of reporting I've ever seen in the NYT. It's got all the hallmarks of a vintage Gore hit piece: half-truths, outright falsehoods, unsubstantiated quotes, and a heaping dose of innuendo. As usual with these things, unless you've been following the debate carefully, you'll be left with a false impression—in this case, that scientists are divided over the accuracy of Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth.

I find it difficult to believe that Broad doesn't know exactly what he's doing here. (See RealClimate for a discussion of one of his previous travesties.)
Here’s the link to that discussion of Broad’s “previous travesty.”

Fairly clearly, Roberts seems to think that Broad’s report was not a collection of innocent errors. For ourselves, we have no idea. But Broad’s report isn’t the worst piece of work we’ve ever seen in the New York Times; in fact, it’s sadly typical of the work the Times has done on Gore for the past dozen years. Just a few weeks ago, for example, we said that Michiko Kakutani’s front-page review of Gore’s Earth in the Balance was one of the most disingenuous pieces of journalism we’ve ever seen—and that graced the front page of the Times, back in 1999, when control of the White House was directly at stake (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/07). But yes, it’s just as Roberts says—this week’s bungled piece by Broad had “all the hallmarks of a vintage Gore hit piece: half-truths, outright falsehoods, unsubstantiated quotes, and a heaping dose of innuendo.” We’ve seen such work at the Times for years.

Does that mean that these “half-truths” were intentional? Not necessarily, no. But God knows, Broad’s report is full of such bungles. Yes, we know—our hapless liberal elites still hate to discuss this decade-long problem. But nasty misstatement has typified the mainstream press corps’ work on Gore for years. Broad may not have politics here. But after years of reading such work about Gore, what he has starts to feel like religion.

On how many topics does hapless Broad bungle? Consider what happened when he discussed a “recent report” by the National Research Council (part of the National Academies). Uh-oh! Broad has just finished bungling the matter of the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves (see yesterday’s HOWLER) when he blunders ahead and says this:
BROAD (3/13/07): So too, a report last June by the National Academies seemed to contradict Mr. Gore's portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium. Instead, the report said, current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600, the tail end of a temperature rise known as the medieval warm period.

Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, said on a blog that Mr. Gore's film did ''indeed do a pretty good job of presenting the most dire scenarios.'' But the June report, he added, shows “that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.”
A familiar part of Broad’s technique is on display in this short treatment. You’ll note that Gore isn’t actually quoted; we’re invited to trust the writer’s Broad paraphrase of whatever it is Gore has said. And you should note another aspect of this challenge to Gore (in which we’re told that Gore seems to have been “contradicted”); in this passage, Broad is criticizing Gore for failing to encompass a report which was released last June, after Gore’s book and film had appeared. If this (later) report really did contradict something Gore said at an earlier juncture, it would be useful to inform Times readers of the new information. But it’s typical of the Times’ Broad measures that Gore is criticized here in this fashion, with Broad never quite arranging to make this part of his time-line fully clear.

But how about it? Does this new report “contradict” Gore’s paraphrased statement—the claim that “recent temperatures [are] the highest in the past millennium?” As far as we can tell, no, it does not—and you’ll note that Spencer doesn’t make such a claim, a point which Broad may have missed in his typical blunderbuss blundering. Indeed, Spencer seems to have given an accurate summary of the new report; one paragraph earlier, Broad has failed at this task. But so it has gone in recent years when our nation’s greatest known journalists have been assigned to report on Vile Gore.

What does this new report actually say? You can access the whole shebang at this link, but this second link takes you to the new report’s summary. If you click ahead to page 3 (out of 4), you’ll find the following bullets:
According to this report, global temps were higher, in the past few decades, than at any time in the past 400 years. The truth is less certain for the 700 years which came before that. But uh-oh! “[T]emperatures at many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the last 25 years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900.” This doesn’t contradict that paraphrased statement, the one which Broad attributes to Gore; as Spencer says, the report merely claims that we don’t know yet, with high confidence, about the earlier period. But the indications sound rather strong back to A.D. 900, a point which Broad didn’t bother to mention as he (inaccurately) rushed to say that Gore has been “contradicted.”

Remember—according to Broad, this new report says that “current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600.” But that just isn’t what this new report says. What it actually says is quite different.

Of course, things are never quite this simple with Broad. And yes, his bungling in this short passage goes beyond what we’ve already noted. This brings us back to the knotty question of what Gore has actually said.

No, Broad doesn’t quote Gore in this short passage; he’s too much in love with the sound of his own paraphrase. But Broad seems to refer to pages 63-65 of An Inconvenient Truth, in which Gore discusses “the research of climate scientist Michael Mann and his colleagues.” Indeed, the new research reported by the National Academies was designed to examine Mann’s conclusions, as is clear in the new report’s summary. But uh-oh! As Gore’s book makes perfectly clear, Mann’s study only involved temperatures for the Northern Hemisphere, not for the globe as a whole. That distinction will help you process the following passage from the new report’s summary (pages 3-4). At this point, the summary is finally discussing the same research which Gore cites in his book and his film:
SUMMARY, NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL REPORT: The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late twentieth century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence...

Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium. The substantial uncertainties currently present in the quantitative assessment of large-scale surface temperature changes prior to about A.D. 1600 lower our confidence in this conclusion compared to the high level of confidence we place in the Little Ice Age cooling and 20th century warming.
Oops! You’ll note that the new report finds it “plausible” that Mann was right in this conclusion; it just isn’t as confident of this conclusion as it is about the last 400 years. And the report also says, as Gore does in his book (see page 65), that Mann’s conclusion “has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence.”

No, it doesn’t judge that Mann’s conclusion has been demonstrated with a high degree of confidence. But does this really “contradict” Gore’s work? The summary goes on to voice little confidence in some other conclusions by Mann—in his conclusion that 1998 was the warmest year in the last millennium, for example. But go ahead—look at Gore’s book. Gore doesn’t cite the parts of Mann’s work which the new report tends to dismiss; he restricts himself to Mann’s broader claim, which the new report plainly does not contradict. Generally speaking, Roy Spencer, the Alabama climatologist, summarized this new report accurately; “all we really know [with high certainty] is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.” But the new report does not “contradict” Mann’s broader conclusion—the claim that temperatures are at their highest in at least the past millennium. Simply put, Times readers were misinformed when blunderbuss Broad made that broad misstatement. Again, they saw their great newspaper put down Gore in a way which is simply inaccurate.

Does the Times’ William Broad have some kind of politics? We don’t have the slightest idea. But he seems to bungle every substantive matter in his utterly woeful report, and his bungling all seems to run one way—in a way which takes down Gore. But then, this has been quite standard fare at the New York Times in the past decade. Indeed, Gore-trashing has been something like a religion in the inner circles of this strange paper. And the paper’s weird culture has been extended in this latest unhelpful report.

Does Broad have politics? We don’t know, but we do know this—he simply luvvs those critics of Gore. Often, this luvv for Gore’s detractors overwhelms the better angels of his journalism. Indeed, who are these guys whom Broad so luvvs—so trusts? On Monday, we’ll look at that question.

A BIT OF AN OVERSTATEMENT: We got our link to that new report from reading Roberts’ valuable post. (Roberts has been an invaluable HuffPoster on warming issues.) But we’d judge that Roberts slightly overstates the meaning of the second passage we have excerpted from that new report’s summary. “Did the NAS report contradict Gore?” he asks. “No, it did the exact opposite” (Roberts’ emphasis). But that passage only says it’s “plausible” that Mann’s conclusion will turn out to be right. There’s still a chance it could turn out wrong—although, to our untrained ear, the reported evidence tilts in Mann’s favor.

William Broad overstated substantially when he said that this new report “contradicts” Gore. Yes, it’s tempting—but we shouldn’t adopt the habits of Broad’s hapless cohort.

FROM GORE’S BOOK: Many of Gore’s claims are conveyed through visuals, which we can’t reproduce. But on page 63, he starts this discussion with this:

GORE (page 63): The thermometer to the right measures temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years.
We see a graphic in which recent temperatures seem higher than previous marks. After discussing the Medieval Warm Period (see yesterday’s HOWLER), Gore ends up saying this:
GORE (page 65): Those global-warming skeptics...launched a fierce attack against another measurement of the 1,000 year correlation between CO2 and temperature known as “the hockey stick,” a graphic image representing the research of climate scientist Michael Mann and his colleagues. But in fact, scientists have confirmed the same basic conclusions in multiple ways—with [Lonnie] Thompson’s ice core record as one of the most definitive.
Another graphic is provided. The part of Gore’s text which we have highlighted is very like one statement, above, from that new report: “The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999)...has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence.” Gore, of course, wrote his statement first. Broad then went ahead and told readers that the new report “contradicted” Gore’s work.

It might have been a helpful thing if Broad had explained that new report. Instead, he tortured its findings a bit and (what else?) stuck the ice pick in Gore.

ICE SHELVES DOWN: In today’s Post, a troubling new report about those two crucial ice shelves. To see Broad thoroughly bungle this topic, just click back to yesterday’s HOWLER. Does Broad have politics? We don’t know. It sometimes feels like he may have religion—the same religion Kakutani displayed when she wrote her disgraceful report.