Daily Howler logo
THE SHAPE OF THE AGE! It was depressing. But C-SPAN's session showed us the shape of the age: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28, 2007

KNOW AND TELL: Luckily, our pundits know all—and are willing to tell. No, Ruth Marcus is not a press corps “Antoinette.” But this morning, even Marcus is willing to know-and-tell all about the Edwards’ decision:
MARCUS (3/28/07): There can be no questioning Edwards's fierce love for her children. When her son Wade died at 16 in an auto accident, she visited his grave every day for two years, often reading aloud the books he would have been assigned in school. Afterward, she underwent fertility treatments to have Emma Claire, now 8, and Jack, 6.

I have a hard time reconciling that devotion with the decision to forge ahead with the presidential campaign. If he loses, was racing to the next fundraiser really worth it? If he wins—well, if she is gravely ill, or worse, is having a father occupied with being president really in the best interest of their children?

The Edwardses have had more reason than most of us can imagine to contemplate life's fragility; their choice about how to proceed now was obviously shaped by that sad experience. Yet their reluctance to consider a middle ground—continue the work they've been doing, but step back from the rigors of a presidential campaign—is mystifying. After all, becoming a parent is all about relinquishing some freedom of action for the joy—and the responsibility—of raising a family.
“I can’t help but wonder” about the Edwards’ situation, Marcus writes a bit later. And let’s face it—that’s precisely the problem.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have been able to avoid wondering about that decision. In part, that’s because we understand a simple fact; the Edwardses know a hundred times more about their situation than we do. How do they plan to raise their children? We don’t have the slightest idea. What role might grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, their young-adult daughter play in the future which they have envisioned? We don’t have the slightest idea. Neither does the nosy Ruth Marcus. Despite that, she’s willing to tell.

Tomorrow—IWDSSO: We let them do it to Gore for two years. After that, for seven years, we pretended that it just didn’t happen. Result? Now they’ve started to do it to Obama! Do you see why we tried to get our liberal/Dem elites to describe our party’s recent history? Do you see how stupid we were when we said (reciting the press corps’ script) that Gore brought this sh*t on himself?

DEATH SENTENCE: Under Andrew Rosenthal, the Times’ op-ed page is becoming a study in irrelevance and upper-class trivia. Today, the largest chunk of space goes to the question of twenty recent pet deaths; the piece is written by Deborah Blum, who “is writing a book about poison murders of the early 20th century.” Right below that, Stanley Fish extends the theme. He tells us how to select murder mysteries at airport book stores.

We couldn’t help chuckling at one part of Fish’s absurdly pointless piece. What’s the best way to spot a bad mystery writer? Just read the first sentence, he says:

FISH (3/28/07): The only thing left—and this is sure-fire—is to read the first sentence. The really bad ones leap out at you....

Sometimes a first sentence is bad because it's pretentious. ''Some stories wait to be told.'' That's an opening Tolstoy or Jane Austen might have considered (although they would have produced superior versions of it). But mystery writers usually aren't Tolstoys or Austens, and a first sentence like this one is a signal (buyer beware) that the author is intent on contemplating his or her ''craft'' and wants you to contemplate it too. No thanks.
Huh! According to Fish, some first sentences help you see that the writing will be all about the writer’s deep genius. Again, we thought of a famous first sentence—the first sentence Maureen Dowd typed up long ago, in a front-page Times “news report:”
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.
Hey, look her over! What a shame the Times didn’t look at that sentence and just say, “No, thanks.” And what a shame they didn’t throw Dowd away after reading this first sentence, five days earlier, in another alleged “news report:”
DOWD (6/4/94): The salute gave it away, of course. Where there should have been snap, there was only chagrin.

In a photo opportunity arranged by the White House, President Clinton was welcomed at the American cemetery in Nettuno by June Marion Wandrey, a 73-year-old pint-sized former Army nurse who fought death in Sicily, Cassino, Anzio, Naples and Dachau.

Proud that she could still fit into her 51-year-old brown wool uniform, with eight battle stars bespeaking her heroism, Mrs. Wandrey greeted the President with a saucy smile and the crisp salute of a professional.

Mr. Clinton returned the salute slowly, tentatively, a self-conscious gesture that reflected his ambivalence about using the fraternal greeting of a military he once said he "loathed." As much as he may love being Commander in Chief, his salute often falters in a military setting, as though he fears a silent reproach about his right to use that mark of mutual respect in light of the years he spent evading the draft and protesting the Vietnam War.

Good God—that’s pure political porn. That crap is how Bush reached the White House.

But then, Dowd has always known-and-told all. And darlings, as press corps culture became more upper-class, this began to seem like some sort of genius. The press corps’ inbred poodles and fops began to see her as a role model. What a shame they lacked the sense to read those attention-grabbing sentences and say this: “No. No thanks.”

Special report: Mars is warming!


PART 2—THE SHAPE OF THE AGE: We’re rarely depressed by our work at THE HOWLER; we’ve learned to see the humor in the press corps’ clowning, and we’re still fascinated by the meta-stories involved in their bad faith and incompetence. But on Monday, it was truly depressing to watch the 26-minute C-SPAN segment titled “Al Gore and Campaign 2008.” A string of callers to the program were deeply deluded—and then, there was the National Journal’s James Barnes. Try to believe the answer he gave to poor misled Caller 7:
CALLER 7, WISCONSIN, REPUBLICAN LINE: As far as the global warming, I just have a hard time believing it, considering three-fourths of the world is water, so we don’t have any control over that particular. I mean, that’s a large chunk of the earth that we don’t have any control over. And then there’s the land, and how much, what percentage of that do humans ever occupy? I don’t think it’s even 20 percent. And then, of the land that we do occupy, how many countries aren’t even developed? So I think it’s a real stretch to say that humans are causing the earth to warm. There’s just too much to question about that...

BARNES, RESPONDING TO CALLER 7: As we see, global warming—there’s two views of this subject. It’s a hotly debated issue.
He had given a similar answer to Caller 5—a man who was sure that Gore was wrong, although he plainly didn’t know what Gore had said. And Barnes fell for the third time with Caller 9—the caller who assured him that Mars is warming. For the depressing text of these Q-and-A’s, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/27/07.

Yes, we found it depressing to watch such perfect nonsense ignored by a major mainstream “journalist”—by a “journalist” who kept insisting that these callers’ howling ignorance shows that there are two sides to this story. It was depressing to see these citizens make the good-faith effort of calling C-SPAN, only to be blown off in this manner. (How are they supposed to know that what they’re being told elsewhere is wrong?) It was depressing to think of all the other C-SPAN viewers, who weren’t being told that these callers’ statements were delusions, built on well-crafted lies.

But later, we found our spirits restored as we realized what a gem this session had been. This session showed us the shape of the age. We saw the soul of a millionaire “mainstream press corps”—a millionaire group in in-action.

What is the ongoing shape of the age? Here’s what happened in Monday’s session—in that small, perfect gem:

Three voters’ heads had been filled with nonsense by the work of the talk-show right. And when they called a major mainstream “journalist,” he refused to challenge or correct their misstatements. He refused to tell these voters that their heads had been filled full of mush. He refused to perform the basic function viewers thought he was there to perform.

But then, this has been the shape of the age at least since the early 90s. The right-wing bullsh*t machine churns out silly, wild tales—and mainstream scribes pretend not to notice. Or they recite the nonsense themselves, in the manner described by Paul Waldman in that brilliant statement last Wednesday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/23/07). Yes, this has been the shape of our age—and now, the press corps’ refusal to function even extends to basic matters of science. This practice has rarely been put on more brilliant display than Barnes did on C-SPAN this week.

Indeed, how inept are our “journalists” willing to be as they defer to the kooky-con right? At one point, Barnes actually attempted to tell C-SPAN viewers about the current state of the science. He had already taken a pass on the nonsense of Callers 5 and 7. Now, he responded to Caller 8—and this was the best he could manage:
CALLER 8, ILLINOIS, DEMOCRATIC OR INDEPENDENT LINE: I wonder if Mr. Barnes could explain how we get these different—it’s very confusing. We go, you know, “death tax,” “climate change” versus “global warming.” Which is it?

BARNES: Well, I think that both of the terms, in terms of “climate change” and “global warming,” really sort of get at the same basic issue. I think that most science—I think there was a United Nations report recently, back in February—I think most science these days is saying global warming’s a problem and if some of your viewers saw those hearings, Lamar Alexander, Republican senator from Tennessee, he said he thought—when he was introducing the vice president—he said he thought there was a global warming problem.
You could hardly offer a weaker account of the current science. And sure enough! When the next caller said that Mars is warming, Barnes went in the tank once again.

Go ahead! Review that answer to Caller 8, and marvel at the shape of the age. “Most science” says there’s a “global warming problem,” Barnes “thinks.” But what is the actual state of the science? It isn’t very hard to summarize. Indeed, Thomas Friedman offers a summary of that UN report in this morning’s New York Times. He’s discussing the clownish attempts of Bush aide Philip Cooney to doctor the Admin’s science statements:
FRIEDMAN (3/28/07): I wonder how Mr. Cooney would have edited the recent draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, written and reviewed by 1,000 scientists convened by the World Meteorological Society and the U.N. It concluded that global warming is ''unequivocal,'' that human activity is the main driver, and that ''changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent.''
For the record, Friedman is working from this February 2, front-page Times news story about the UN report. Summaries of the state of the science are not real hard to find.

''The evidence is on the table,” a UN scientific official was quoted saying that day. But six weeks later, at C-SPAN’s table, Barnes was hemming and hawing. He said he “thinks” that “most science” says global warming “is a problem”—vastly understating the scientific consensus. And when three callers offered the goony thoughts they’d picked up from the likes of Rush and Sean, Barnes refused to challenge their statements. There are strong feelings on both sides, he weakly and uselessly said.

By the way: At the Gore hearings, did Lamar Alexander really say that there was a global warming problem? Yes—but so did many Republican members of the House and Senate committees. Let’s quote David Leonhardt in today’s Times: “Representative Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican (lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union: 90 out of 100 ), told Mr. Gore, ‘I think everyone recognizes—as you have said and the scientific community agrees—that there is global warming caused by human activity.’” Thanks not true, of course—a point Leonhardt skips. But Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican, went even farther during the hearing, saying this in response to some clownish GOP colleagues: "It's possible to be a conservative without appearing to be an idiot." Meanwhile, to see Senator John Warner voice solidarity with Gore, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/23/07. In fact, many Republicans voiced their agreement with the scientific consensus on warming. But weak-minded Barnes, re-enacting an age, whittled their number to one.

That C-SPAN session was a gem. It captured the heart of a broken age. Three voters’ heads had been filled full of mush—and a “journalist” agreed not to tell them.

TOMORROW—PART 3: In which we learn more about the warming science NPR agreed not to share.