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BUNGLING RATHER (PART 6)! “I haven’t discussed the insider press,” Josh said. Our analysts responded: “We’ve noticed!” // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2005

MILLION-DOLLAR LIGHTWEIGHT: The press corps’ alleged bias is constantly flogged. But often, it’s harder for people to comprehend how dumb the corps really is. How big a lightweight is the Post’s Dana Milbank? In Sunday’s Outlook section, Milbank confesses to what his headline calls a “bias for mainstream news.” The scribe’s worry? “Partisans on the left and right have formed cottage industries devoted to discrediting what they dismissively call the ‘mainstream media,’” he writes. “[T]he consequences are ominous for the country,” the troubled scribe quickly explains:
MILBANK (3/20/05): Consider a poll two weeks before the 2004 election by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes: The survey found that 72 percent of President Bush's supporters believed that, at the time of the U.S. invasion, Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction or at least major illegal weapons programs. It also found that 75 percent of Bush voters believed that Iraq either gave al Qaeda "substantial support" or was directly involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Further, majorities of Bush supporters believed that U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer and the 9/11 commission backed them up on these points.
“It’s fine to argue about the merits of the Iraq war, but these views are just plain wrong,” Milbank writes. But we think you know the brain-dead rules that drive the work of Milbank’s cohort. If you say that conservatives are grossly misinformed, you must instantly say the same thing about liberals! Just like that, Milbank delivers:
MILB ANK: This is not to pick on Bush followers. Many on the left harbor their own fantasies that they consider fact—about how Bush knew of 9/11 in advance, or how he was coached during one of the presidential debates via a transmitter between his shoulder blades.
Two decades ago, the late senator-scholar Daniel Patrick Moynihan remarked that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Now, ideologues are claiming their own facts as well.

But how many people “on the left” believe that Bush “knew of 9/11 in advance?” Is it anything like 75 percent, the number Milbank has just cited in discussing those disinformed Bush supporters? And how many people “on the left” actually believe, as a matter of fact, that Bush was coached during that debate? In these cases, Milbank cites no polling data, because there is no poll on the face of the earth which would produce anything like the type of equivalence he so slavishly seeks here. Could liberals be as factually deluded, one fine day, as conservatives currently are? Of course they could, but that day hasn’t come. But so what? Milbank presents nonsense about Bush and 9/11 because it supports a gutless approach his flyweight cohort insists on.

You really have to be a lightweight to publish utter nonsense like that. But Milbank’s a million-dollar baby, paid top dollar for defending his tribe—and for typing their brain-dead scripts. How foolish is Milbank willing to be? At one point, he directly compares Jon Stewart to Rush Limbaugh! “Conservatives tune in to Rush Limbaugh,” he types. “Liberals opt for the late-night commentary of Jon Stewart.” It’s no wonder we’re so mixed up with a pair of book-end dissemblers like that!

MILLION-DOLLAR FLYWEIGHT: Speaking of intellectual flyweights, how about the Post’s David Broder? In Sunday’s column, The Dean heaps praise on Republican congressman Clay Shaw, presenting him as a true man of the middle. “If you assume, as most knowledgeable people do, that any solution to the Social Security problem will require bipartisan agreement, then your gaze naturally falls on people such as Shaw,” Broder gushes. But after praising Shaw’s vast wisdom, Broder quickly quotes the congressman making a blatant misstatement:

BRODER (3/20/05): When I interviewed Shaw last week, he began by saying—as do almost all Republicans—that it is impossible to close the gap between promised Social Security benefits and current Social Security taxes unless younger workers are allowed to create individual retirement accounts invested in stocks and bonds.
Shaw’s statement, of course, is absurdly inaccurate; there are all kinds of ways to “close the gap” without employing private accounts. But try to find any point in this column where Broder lets his readers know this. If Shaw is actually saying this, he is speaking complete, utter nonsense. But Broder praises Shaw to the skies even as he recites this plain howler.

And of course, flyweight on one, flyweight on all! Broder goes on to accept a wide range of puzzling, unexplored claims from his new culture hero. We’ll do “add-ons,” not replacements, Shaw says! If investments fail, we’ll pay retirees anyway! And we’ll have to borrow $3.4 trillion—but we’ll get all the money back in the end! Finally, there’s this crowning moment:

BRODER: How would it be financed? By borrowing $3.4 trillion from the Treasury. That is a staggering sum, [Shaw] concedes, but he says that Social Security actuaries calculate that as people began to cash in their accounts later this century, the money the Treasury had advanced would come back, and in 75 years, all that debt would be repaid and excess cash would be generated each year—which he would insist be used to retire other government debt.
According to Broder, Shaw will still be “insisting” on good government even after the year 2080! Apparently Shaw has found the Fountain of Youth along with his other achievements.

Only a flyweight could type that last sentence. But that’s the way your press corps works—and Fred Hiatt, worried again about the mall, waves the whole mess into print.

BUNGLING RATHER (PART 6): When will your “liberal spokesmen” stand and speak frankly about the work of the mainstream press corps? Such “spokesmen” love bashing conservative outlets, but these same brave liberals are strangely silent about mainstream news orgs and pundits—orgs for whom they may want to work, and pundits with whom they may wish to party. During the Rathergate flap, for example, these “liberal spokesmen” gazed into air while pseudo-cons screeched about the corps’ “liberal bias.” Not for them the dirty task of recalling the facts of the past dozen years, when the mainstream press trashed Clinton, they staged a two-year War Against Gore—a War which sent Bush to the White House. Amazing, isn’t it? Even after the trashing of Clinton and Gore, pseudo-cons still get to yell liberal bias—the greatest spin-point of our modern discourse. Yep—when it comes to describing the work of the insider press, “liberal spokesmen” are endlessly willing to play the fool. But why on earth would your brave “liberal spokesmen” be willing to go out and do that?

Why do your “spokesmen” behave this way? Let’s consider something important Josh Marshall wrote back on March 8. The Note, ABC’s daily press digest, had published a post about Social Security. After Marshall linked to the post, he came down on The Note semi-hard:

MARSHALL (3/8/05): ABC's The Note does love the Washington establishment's CW when it comes to phasing out Social Security. Take a look at their read of the state of play today.

This is a topic I haven't discussed or dug much into in the last year or more—the right-leaning dinner-party centrism of establishment Washington—but it really oozes from this update linked above.

Good for Josh! According to Marshall,“establishment Washington” lies in the grip of a “right-leaning dinner-party centrism.” And according to Marshall, that right-leaning centrism simply oozed from that post by ABC’s young elite.

That’s what Josh said—but could it be true? Could the idealistic young scribes at ABC really be in the grip of a “right-leaning centrism?” That, of course, would contradict the claim of the mainstream press corps’ “liberal bias.” So which is it? Liberal bias or right-leaning centrism? To shed a bit of light on that question, consider Chris Matthews’ clownish appearance on last Friday’s Imus.

As everyone knows (and knows not to say), Matthews is a loud-mouthed, spin-driven, millionaire voice of Washington’s insider press corps. So how about it—is the excitable, red-faced talker driven by that dread liberal bias? If so, he managed to hide it last Friday on Imus. Here’s what he said when Imus goaded him about Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom Matthews had recently interviewed:

IMUS (3/18/05): Hey, what—don’t you think Schwarzenegger is kind of creepy?

MATTHEWS: I don’t know—I like him. I like the feeling that he’s come into politics and shaken everything up and he’s certainly enjoying himself taking on the unions and if you’re a Democrat, you probably figure he’s taking on the little people and he should be taking on the big business guys like the drug companies and—he’s a Republican! That’s just the way it is!

So far, Matthews was hiding his liberal bias fairly well. But as the conversation continued, the disguise became even more skillful. Note the way Matthews reacted to a question about Schwarzenegger’s personal conduct:
IMUS (continuing directly): He’s kind of an unsavory character, isn’t he, going and grabbing women, all that kind of stuff? Or we don’t know?

MATTHEWS: Oh—we don’t know. There were complaints...

We don’t know! And even better: There were complaints!! Of course, Matthews didn’t explain why “we don’t know”—because Schwarzenegger, once elected, broke his pre-election promise to have his own past conduct investigated. But then, that’s Matthews to a T! The talker spent years trashing Clinton for his ten bl*w jobs, then savaged Gore for year after year because he wouldn’t trash Clinton sufficiently. But with Darling Arnold, all is different! How well does Matthews hide his liberal bias? As he continued, the talker gushed about his Republican idol:
MATTHEWS: Oh—we don’t know. There were complaints. But I think he’s great because I can’t stand the regular sort of Gray Davis politician who takes the money from the interest groups and says all the right, politically-correct kinds of things and then sits around and all the problems get worse and worse year after year because these guys are really just in there for the position. And I’m not sure he’s in there for the position. I think he’s in there, like Reagan was, to do something.
The liberal bias was missing in action. According to Matthews, Democratic pols say “politically correct” things; take big sacks of money; and sit around doing nothing while problems get worse and worse. But when it comes to Republican pols, their motives and character are pure as snow. Darling Arnold wants to do good. In that way, he’s like Darling Ronnie.

Of course, trashing Democratic pols has long been SOP for Matthews, as it has been for so many members of the insider press elite. In fact, Matthews has long been the perfect embodiment of what Marshall called “the right-leaning dinner-party centrism of establishment Washington”—a right-leaning animus which has led him to trash one Big Dem after another. Al Gore? “He doesn’t look like one of us,” the nasty talker even told Imus shortly after September 11. “He doesn’t seem very American, even.” Yes, the same fawning fellow who covers for Arnold was willing to trash Gore as non-American! But then, this is the actual face of your press corps elite—a face that is almost never discussed by your cowardly “liberal spokesmen.”

For more on Matthews’ values, see below. But here’s a question for you to ponder as we prepare to end this series with our next hard-hitting report: When have you ever seen “liberal spokesmen” tell the truth about Matthews? Your “spokesmen” love to beat up Bill O’Reilly, and O’Reilly’s increasingly kooky work has increasingly justified their complaints. But Matthews has trashed Big Dems for years, in ways far nastier than O’Reilly has done. So why do so few “liberal spokesmen” ever state the obvious truth—that Matthews is a nasty man, a man who has been expressing that “right-leaning dinner-party” view for year after year after year? Why do your spokesmen refuse to tell the American public about the soul of the establishment press—about the “right-leaning dinner party” ethic men like Matthews so plainly express?

Indeed, despite his endless, groaning misconduct—despite his clowning embrace of Republican pols—we don’t think we’ve ever seen a “liberal spokesman” go after Matthews! Is there anything this man can do or say that will bring down the wrath of your “liberal spokesmen?” Alas! They bungled badly in the Rathergate mess, refusing to discuss the press corps’ real conduct. But then, they’ve also routinely looked away from Matthews’ endless misconduct. Indeed, our young analysts stared with bright, wide eyes when they showed us that March 8 post by Marshall (who has done so much brilliant work). According to Marshall—go ahead, you can read it again for yourselves—he hasn’t discussed the press corps’ “right-leaning centrism” over the course of the past several years. We’re big fans of Marshall’s work. But staring at us with bright, puzzled eyes, our analysts said this: We’ve noticed.

COMING—PART 7! TOUGH-TALKING GRAND FINALE! When will “liberal spokesmen” describe the mainstream press corps as it really exists?

INSIDER VALUES: As Matthews’ chat with Imus continued, the red-faced talker discussed his recent interview with Clint Eastwood, a session which took place on Eastwood’s ranch. What are the actual values of your insider press? Matthews almost made it too obvious:

MATTHEWS (3/18/05): I liked that Clint Eastwood thing on Tuesday. I gotta tell you, that was the most fun I ever had in this business, going out to the Mission Ranch and spending some time with him. I mean, this guy is who he is is who he is [sic]. He’s the guy he plays—Clint Eastwood is the guy Clint Eastwood plays. He’s a libertarian, a guy who lives on a ranch, a bit of a cowboy who has developed his entire life he wants to live. He’s got his golf courses, his young wife—he’s got erverything exactly the way he wants it. He lives like a Clint Eastwood character.
Actually—with no disrespect to Eastwood intended—many Eastwood characters, including the most recent, live in painful estrangement from female family members. Quite pointedly, there are no “young wives” around. But notice Matthews’ notion of the good life. Eastwood has golf courses—and a young wife! Trust us—Matthews’ values are not the ones that result in that dread “liberal bias.”

As Marshall seemed to suggest, the establishment press has long expressed a noxious “right-leaning dinner-party” ethos. In Part 7, we’ll ask the obvious question—when will your cowering “liberal spokesmen” finally stand up and say so?

POSITIONING MARA: Good girl! Virginia Heffernan knew how to play it in this morning’s Times. She discussed the TV coverage of the Schiavo matter:

HEFFERNAN (3/21/05): William Kristol, the founder of The Weekly Standard, ventured to assert with conviction on Fox News, ''She can recover substantially if she gets the proper rehabilitation.''

Also on Fox News, Mara Liasson and Juan Williams, correspondents for NPR, responded to Mr. Kristol by trying to deflect attention from Ms. Schiavo's mental state by discussing political matters. Ms. Liasson, like others on the left, added that Ms. Schiavo's predicament might, if nothing else, serve as a reminder to all of us to write a living will.

Good girl! Mara Liasson is now “on the left”—and of course, she’s deflecting attention away from substance. In fact, Liasson appears on Fox as a reporter; she rarely betrays an ideological view. But Heffernan knew just how to play it. Mara and Juan are from NPR. By the rules, they must be “on the left.”

We first noticed Heffernan’s inane dinner-party centrism when she did a remarkable piece for Slate in November 2002. We strongly suggest that you read the whole thing. But here’s the way she began her review of an Al Gore appearance on Letterman:

HEFFERNAN: The double bill was almost too bad to be true: Al Gore and Pearl Jam. Getting two such high-level laughingstocks together on one stage seemed a Barnumesque feat.
Where do they go to find such churls? “The show's lousy skits and gags held my attention because I was genuinely nervous,” the scripted flyweight wrote, “worried that they might be the last regular television I saw before witnessing Gore's full and final meltdown.” For years, this has been the way these lightweights maintain their gigs at the vacuous Times. When will “liberal spokesman” dare to stand up and describe this real world, as it is?