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HEROES OF JOURNALIST LABOR! Roberts, Boehlert, Lemieux and Foser point the way to a bright, shining future: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2007

THE TWO AND ONLY: Our analysts chuckled mordantly at this clip from Anne Kornblut’s report in the Post:
KORNBLUT (3/20/07): From the start, Clinton's campaign has displayed two attributes: pugnaciousness and defensiveness. Clinton advisers believe that only by being aggressive can their candidate counter negative perceptions of their candidate and give her the opportunity to make her own case for leading the country.
Those two attributes—and no others! Where in the world do our major newspapers find writers who churn out such work?

THE IMPORTANCE OF NOT BEING EARNEST: Last Wednesday, Felicity Barringer penned a major report on environmental activist Bill McKibben. (Headline: “Renewing a Call to Act Against Climate Change.”) Her report dominated the first page of the New York Times’ “National Report” section; accompanied by two huge pictures, it covered about two-thirds of the page. We think Barringer’s opening makes a nice coda to our work this past week on the hapless William Broad (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/20/07). Here’s how she started her piece:
BARRINGER (3/14/07): Some are born earnest, some achieve earnestness, and some have earnestness thrust upon them. Bill McKibben qualifies for inclusion in at least two of these wedges of humanity.
“In 1989, at the age of 28, he achieved earnestness of a dour, frowning sort,” Barringer continued, “as one of the first laymen to warn of global warming in his book ‘The End of Nature.’”

Three words: Where to begin?

On balance, Barringer presents a reasonable profile of a figure deemed important enough to lead the Times’ national section. But good God—that gruesome opening! Hey look me over, it seems to say, as it calls our attention to Barringer’s brilliant wit. Indeed, before Barringer offers a single word about McKibben’s work on climate change, she seems to offer a mocking framework: Good God, this guy is soooo earnest! We’ll admit it. That opening made us think of the Gotham Times’ Creeping Dowdism, in two quite unfortunate ways.

First: In Barringer’s opening, we’re asked to focus on the brilliant wit of the scribe herself as opposed to the subject under review. Again, we remind you of Dowd’s most famous lead—the purring lead to her front-page “news report” when Bill Clinton went back to Oxford:
DOWD (6/9/94): President Clinton returned today for a sentimental journey to the university where he didn't inhale, didn't get drafted and didn't get a degree.
Ha ha ha ha ha! That was good! Dowd’s lead—and yes, that was a front-page “news report”—helped define a part of emerging Times culture: its focus on the wit and brilliance of its brilliant, witty writers. It’s the witty writer who gets the attention—even if it comes at the expense of the subject under review.

Go ahead—reread Dowd’s classic lead, then read Barringer’s. Can’t you see the emerging soul of the hapless but self-impressed Times?

But we thought we detected another aspect of Creeping Dowdism in Barringer’s lead. Ha ha ha ha ha, she writes. This McKibben fellow is just soooo earnest! Barringer seems to mock McKibben’s focus on warming even before she explains what he’s actually done. We thought of Dowd’s exchange with Joe Klein, reported by Gay Jervey (Brill’s Content) way back in 1999:
JERVEY (6/99): "Maureen is very talented," observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. "But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties...I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, 'Maureen, why don't you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?' And she said, 'You mean I should write about welfare reform?’”
Dowd rolled her eyes at the very thought of caring about a serious issue. We thought we detected that same high tone when Barringer built her A-frame last week.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! For the high Antoinettes of a millionaire press corps, serious issues tend to bring on eye-rolling. Perhaps that’s how we ended up with William Broad’s inexcusable clowning in our greatest newspaper last week. Perhaps that’s why Broad’s editor didn’t take his laughable work and throw it in one of McKibben’s compost heaps, which is pretty much where it belonged.

HEROES OF JOURNALIST LABOR: Good God! We were stunned by the superlative work we encountered yesterday on the web. We’re speaking of Roberts, Boehlert and Lemieux—three heroes of journalist labor.

Let’s start (again) with David Roberts. His superlative post on Broad’s bungled effort was simply invaluable last week. And he wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade when it came to the lofty New York Times:
ROBERTS (3/13/07): [L]et's summarize: Bill Broad took to the pages of the paper of record to establish that there is significant concern in the scientific community about the accuracy of Gore's movie. To do so, he trotted out scientific outliers, non-scientists, and hacks with discredited arguments. In at least two cases...he made gross factual errors. As for the rest, it's a classic case of journalistic false balance”—something I thought we were done with on global warming. I guess when it comes to Al Gore, the press still thinks it can get by on smear, suggestion, and innuendo.
Hurrah for Roberts! He didn’t just correct Broad’s bungles—here and elsewhere, he reminded his readers that this sort of thing has been standard when the press corps (when the Times) has dealt with Al Gore. (Earlier, he said this about Broad’s report: “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 we’ve long said, voters have to be told about this, again and again, until they come to understand it. To this day, American voters are endlessly told about the press corps’ famed “liberal bias.” We have to tell them, over and over, the truth about this “mainstream press corps.” We have to tell them—again and again— how this press corps has treated Major Dem Leaders over the past fifteen years.

And omigod! Yesterday, at Media Matters, the incomparable Eric Boehlert extended the case. His headline: “The New York Times continues its War on Gore.” Boehlert summarized the problems with Broad’s “misleading hit piece,” then took readers on a long journey through the Times’ disgraceful history of savage, bungled attacks on Gore. Voters—Times readers—have to be told this! Meanwhile, over at Tapped, hero of journalist labor Lemieux was helpfully posting this:
LEMIEUX (3/19/07): I don't like going along with implications that the 2000 election was entirely about Gore's weaknesses as a candidate. Gore didn't design the definitively irrational system the Constitution uses to select presidents. He didn't insist on Ralph Nader's vanity campaign. He didn't encourage the Florida state legislature to create its election statutes by having the attorney general's infant son scrawl something in crayon. He didn't appoint 5 partisan hacks to the Supreme Court. He didn't force outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times to conduct an endless smear campaign against him, or generally cover this highly consequential election like an elementary school student council race...

I don't recall Gore underestimating the importance of the 2000 campaign, but I do recall lots of alleged liberals—represented for me by Frank Rich—who claimed that the election didn't really matter and that Bush and Gore were indistinguishable... I don't claim that Gore was a great candidate. But when it comes to squandered opportunities, I'm a lot more upset at the media and the idiot "Gush-Bore" crowd than I am about someone who ran a serious campaign and would have been a good president.

Oh. Our. God. He even named Rich! Voters have to hear this history, again and again, if they’re going to understand modern politics—if they’re going to understand the punishing role the “mainstream” press corps has played, and will play, in our attempts to send Dems to the White House.

(For the record, Media Matters moved on all fronts in the wake of the Broad report. Click here, here and here to see other writers grapple with Broad—and his aftermath. Meanwhile, Jamison Foser has endlessly told the story of the “mainstream press corps” and Big Major Dems. Foser, who’s clearly a HOJL, does this every Friday.)

Yes, it was thrilling to see Boehlert and Lemieux help Dems and libs understand recent history. Voters hear constant propaganda about “liberal bias;” they need to hear the truth told constantly too. Let’s conclude with two old bits of theory:

Millionaire pundit values: Why has the New York Times—the mainstream press corps—behaved in this way for the past fifteen years? Again, imagine a thought experiment in a graduate seminar. Here’s the question we’ll pose to the students: How would a “mainstream press corps” function if its opinion leaders were almost all millionaires? Surely, a graduate seminar would predict that such a press corps would behave the way our own press corps does—that it would endlessly focus on trivia, and that it would tend to go after the leaders of the less millionaire-friendly party. But that’s exactly how our “mainstream press corps” has behaved for the past fifteen years. And yes—its opinion leaders are almost all multimillionaires, although they struggle to keep the public from knowing. They fly away to their homes on Nantucket—to write soulful books about how they’re really from Buffalo.

The culture of Stasi: Again, we’ll invite you to see the Oscar-winning film, The Lives of Others, and see if a bell doesn’t ring in your head. This film portrays life under the Stasi in the last few years of the East German republic. And yes, the behavior of the Stasi agents reminded us of our mainstream press corps! In this film, a bunch of unaccomplished, half-witted Stasi agents sit around inventing silly tales with which they can bring down more accomplished people. Similarly, bored half-wits like Maureen Dowd have sat around in recent decades, thinking up silly tales with which they’ve abused Major Dems. The more accomplished these Democrats are, the more this seems to annoy the souls of these bored, unaccomplished pseudo-journalists. Just imagine! Silly posers like Dowd and Rich have sat around dreaming up stupid tales which took down Gore and sent Bush to the White House! Even last summer, when Gore’s film appeared, Rich kept insisting, in the Times, that it showed us how fake and phony Gore is. Last week, Broad peddled his idiot tales—swiped from the New York Sun!—about how bungled Gore’s work really is. This sort of thing will never stop—until we stand up and stop it. Until we endlessly name their names, this Stasi-work will never stop.

They’re millionaires—with the souls of bored Stasi. But until we tell the voters about them, the voters will continue to think that they’re driven by that much-ballyhooed “liberal bias.” Yesterday, we were thrilled to read the work of our heroes of journalist labor. Thanks to the work that these worthies are doing, average workers gaze steadily off, espying a bright, shining future.

OUR EARLIER HEROES OF JOURNALIST LABOR: And let’s not forget our earlier heroes, whose work we should keep on reading and citing:

Gene Lyons, who wrote Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater in 1996.

Gene Lyons and Joe Conason, who wrote The Hunting of the President in 2000.
Gene and Joe chronicled the early years in which our “press corps” turned into the mess it now is. We have to explain these things to the voters. The other side will always yell, “Liberal bias.” Over and over, we have to make sure that voters get to hear the real truth.

BECAUSE WE’VE FAILED: Today, Gore testifies to the Congress about climate change. Because we’ve failed, this passage appears in Mark Leibovich’s front-page report:

LEIBOVICH (3/20/07): There are still Democrats who hold Mr. Gore responsible for losing the 2000 election, and the 2008 field is already crowded. But if he were to decide to run again, Mr. Gore’s fame, network of donors and wealth would allow him to enter the presidential race late, political strategists say.
That highlighted passage is perfectly accurate. But because we’ve failed to tell the truth up to now, there’s a great deal which has been left out. See Lemieux, Scott, just above, for an alternative vision.