WASHINGTON AWOL (PART 1): In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick makes an excellent point about press reaction to Men in Black, Mark Levins junk-book best-seller. But before we examine her excellent point, how about a point of puzzlement? We dont have the slightest idea why Lithwick thinks this is the case:
LITHWICK: Men in Black was published by Regnery Publishing—the same outfit that brought us Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry last summer. Serious journalists spent serious time debunking the claims set forth in the Swift Boat book, but absolutely no one seems to be taking on Levin.Were forced to ask: Just who were those serious journalists who managed to spend so much serious time debunking the claims in Unfit for Command? No one seems to be taking on Levin, Lithwick gripes—but who took on that Swift Boat book, which transformed the Bush-Kerry race? As we have noted (links below), major newspapers routinely failed to review that ONeill/Corsi book, just as they are taking a pass on reviewing the book by Levin. (It has been reviewed virtually no place and written up by almost no one, Lithwick writes.) And when these newspapers examined the Swift Vet claims in their actual news pages, their reporting was thoroughly softball. For example, the New York Times focused on how the Swift Boat project was funded—but why should voters care about a projects funding if the projects claims are on-target? And concerning the accuracy of those claims, the mainstream press corps said little. For example, when the Washington Post analyzed one of ONeill/Corsis major claims against Kerry, the paper played on the one hand/on the other hand pretty much all the way—and then refused to tell its readers when eye-witnesses to the disputed events came out supporting Kerry (links below). In fact, Unfit for Command was a kooky book—a book larded with crackpot, contradictory claims. But to all appearances, the lords and ladies of the mainstream press were too fine (and too frightened) to say so. We dont know why Lithwick thinks different.
Thats right, folks. The mainstream press was big-time AWOL as Swift Boat claims changed the 2000 race—just as Lithwick finds them AWOL in the new matter of Levin. But then, this has been common conduct for the mainstream press corps over the course of the past several decades, as the pseudo-right has created an alternate discourse on talk radio and on cable news networks. By now, we thought everyone knew how the game is played: Pseudo-con spinners use these new media to make wild-eyed, kooky, irrational claims—and high-minded mainstream and liberal pundits all stare blankly off into space, being careful not to confront, challenge, critique or contradict them. When Lithwick describes the soft treatment dished to Levin, she describes a familiar practice. Her colleagues are expert at this sort of thing, although she seems not to have heard.
At any rate, Lithwick is completely right when she complains about the free pass her colleagues are handing to Levin. But she types from within the ruling press class, and she seems to know the rules of the tribe—she must assume the loftiest motives about why this sort of thing happens. According to Lithwick, Levin has written a fake, crackpot book (I use the word book with some hesitation, she says)—and the book is on the best-seller list, where its affecting the nations understanding. So why arent stars of the mainstream press discussing how kooky the book really is? Of course! Lithwick understands completely!" Her friends and colleagues are looking away because theyre just so darn high-minded:
LITHWICK: I can understand completely why the serious legal thinkers of this world have no interest in engaging with Levin on his legal scholarship. Jeff Rosen probably had to swallow hard twicebefore even referencing Men in Black in his op-ed on judge-bashing last week. But ignoring this book won't keep it from tearing up the best-seller list; and it's unwise to write off everyone who reads it as a Swift Boat lunatic. In the past weeks, we have seen a quiet sea change with death threats to—and actual attacks on—judges becoming disturbingly common. To refuse to acknowledge the call-to-arms behind Men in Black, as the press and most of the legal academy has done,can feel like intellectual integrity. But it also represents a failure to take part in a national conversation that may have very serious long-term consequences for the courts.Poor Rosen! Being a serious legal thinker, he probably had to swallow hard before mentioning Levins best-seller. To Lithwick, her colleagues are serious—and deeply dainty. It pains them when they have to mention the things that are changing your world.
Lithwick is right in one part of her post. Its true—when her colleagues refuse to discuss Levins book, they fail to take part in a national conversation that may have very serious long-term consequences. But were forced to gag at her scripted assumption that this failure is driven by her colleagues intellectual integrity, or by something that feels like same. The mainstream press has been AWOL for decades when it comes to confronting the kooky-con right—and no, were sorry, we dont assume its because theyre so chock-a-block full of integrity.
Lithwick praises her colleagues high character. All week, well consider something different.
TOMORROW—PART 2: Too dainty—too fine—to watch cable
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Serious journalists spent serious time debunking the claims set forth in the Swift Boat book? We cant imagine why Lithwick thinks that. Last summer and fall, we spent weeks on ONeill and Corsis kooky book—and we rarely saw any sign that anyone in the press corps had deigned to read it. How kooky—and nasty—were the claims in the book? For a small taste of ONeill and Corsis nastiness, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/23/04 (scroll down to Part 6 of our Smear Boat Veterans series). The matters discussed here were completely ignored by the mainstream press, whose serious journalists were far too dainty to read or respond to this book.
Meanwhile, how serious was the Washington Post when it examined one key Swift Vet claim? To get a small glimpse of the Post going AWOL, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/04. (For a sequel on this topic, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/04.) But lets make it simple—when a string of eyewitnesses defended Kerrys accounts of some major events, their statements were almost wholly ignored. The mainstream press corps disgraced itself in this matter. We cant imagine why Lithwick thinks different.
Next point: Is the sainted Ted Koppel a serious journalist? In mid-October, ONeill was still out there lying, right in Teds face—and Koppel was too unprepared to notice. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/18/04. For a pair of embarrassing follow-up posts, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/04 and 8/23/04.
Finally, a basic point—major papers generally failed to review Unfit for Command, just as they are doing with Levins book. For example, the New York Times finally published a short review on October 10, 2004—two months after the book transformed the 2004 White House race. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/05. Most papers didnt review the book at all. Were not sure why Lithwick thinks different.
Our archives are full of material on ONeill and Corsis kooky book—material the press corps hid from completely. Lithwick is right to scold the press for failing to debunk Levins gong-show best-seller. But this is just what they did with Unfit for Command. Its what they have done for year after year. We dont know why Lithwick thinks different.