MONDAY, APRIL 5, 2004
DRIVING MR. CHENEY: Theres really nothing left to say about Elisabeth Bumillers spotless musings [see THE DAILY HOWLER, 03/22/04]. In todays Times, she pens another fawning White House Letter about her Dear Leader, George Bush. Todays lengthy piece lets us know that Bush is revered by the women around him. Headline: The Women Behind Bush: They Promote and Defend, Nudge, Revere and Defer. Sub-head: From a group of determined cheerleaders, its Give me a W!
Three photos highlight the hagiography, which runs from the top of the page to the bottom. Among other things, we learn that Bush is supported by his mother and his wife.
As she writes about Bushs four Valkyries, Bumiller reports things she cant know to be true. Lets put her inanity to the side for a moment. How could Bumiller possibly know whether this actually happened?
BUMILLER: [Karen Hughes] so devoted that she said I love you, Mr. President when she told Mr. Bush she needed to move her family back home to Texas.How does Bumiller know this occurred? EasyKaren Hughes told her! Ditto for this, the latest from the inexhaustible store of George-Bush-is-in-charge White House parables:
BUMILLER: [Condoleezza Rice] once made the mistake of pressing the president too hard about his use of the phrase vital role in a speech to describe the responsibilities of the United Nations in Iraq. Ms. Rice did not agree with the phrase, but Mr. Bush abruptly cut her off. I did it, and thats it, the president told her, said a senior administration official who watched the exchange.But how does Bumiller know this official was telling the truth? Lets state the obviousshe doesnt! But for reasons only known to the Times, Bumiller has become an official arm of the Bush campaigns propaganda machine. Every Monday, she retypes their cant, surrounding it with the pleasing images that spotless minds adore. Condi Rice? She is so devoted [to Bush] that she spends most weekends with the first couple, the Spotless One mindlessly gushes.
Week after week, Bumiller churns this White House pap. Lets state the obviousif the Washington Times ever published such crap, the paper would be widely mocked. If the Bush campaign ran this stuff as an ad, wags would ask why they protest so much. But the New York Times has plainly assigned the Spotless One to the role of Flatterer One. In doing so, they make an utter joke of your interestsand serve their own, in a way not explained.
Meanwhile, where are the weekly Letters about how wonderful John Kerry is? Simplesuch foolishness doesnt exist! At any rate, for those who may have lost track by this point, here is a sampling of the Spotless Ones recent gushing. American democracy is deeply mocked when newspapers stoop to such clowning:
March 8: White House Letter: Bush Ready And Bursting To Bring It OnTheres no more to say about Bumillers spotlessness. But why on earth does the New York Times publish such rank propaganda?
SHATTERED BROOKS: As you may recall, David Brooks wrote a foolish-but-famous piece for the December 2001 Atlantic (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/21/01). ARE WE REALLY ONE COUNTRY? the cover asked. A report from Red and Blue America. Brooks, like a modern-day Thoreau, had gone out to limn the big questions:
HENRY THOREAU (1854): I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.How absurd was Brooks piece? Because some states were red (had voted for Bush), and some states were blue (had voted for Gore), Brooks was afraid we might have become two different nations. So he went to see how differently life was being lived in these two different worlds. But as if to offer a cry for help, Brooks never got to the red states at all. Instead, he compared life in his home base (Montgomery County, Maryland) with life in the aforementioned Franklin County. Unfortunately, Franklin County is in Pennsylvaniaand Pennsylvania is a blue state, just like Maryland! In short, Brooks compared life-styles in two blue states to see if wed become separate red-and-blue countries. Little in his puzzling piece made much more sense than that.
Brooks piece made almost no sensebut we now learn that some of its facts were invented. Meanwhile, at the New Republic, Noam Scheiber thinks thats fine and dandy. Brooks lyingand Scheibers approvalmerit closer looks.
How do we know that Brooks invented some basic facts? We owe this knowledge to Sasha Issenberg, who writes for Philadelphia magazine. In the April issue, the eagle-eyed scribe conducts a review of Brooks visit to Franklin County. First, Issenberg lists Brooks generalizations about red-and-blue statesgeneralizations he finds to be rather shaky. But then he describes his own fiendish research. In January, Issenberg says, I made my own trip to Franklin County, 175 miles southwest of Philadelphia, with a simple goal. I wanted to see where Brooks comes up with this stuff. And alas! When Issenberg gets to Franklin County, he finds that Brooks simply makes this stuff up! In this, the most telling part of his article, he is quoting Brooks piece in Atlantic:
ISSENBERG: As I made my journey, it became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home. On my journeys to Franklin County, I set a goal: I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menusteak au jus, slippery beef pot pie, or whateverI always failed. I began asking people to direct me to the most expensive places in town. They would send me to Red Lobster or Applebees, he wrote. Id scan the menu and realize that Id been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and seafood delight trying to drop $20. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it.What did Issenberg find when he went to Franklin County? [I]t became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home, he says. According to Brooks, Franklin County was so deep in the sticks that you cant even spend twenty bucks on a meal there! But when Issenberg went to the restaurant Brooks had named, he found that he had no such problem:
ISSENBERG (continuing directly): Taking Brookss cue, I lunched at the Chambersburg Red Lobster and quickly realized that he could not have waded through much surf-and-turf at all. The Steak and Lobster combination with grilled center-cut New York strip is the most expensive thing on the menu. It costs $28.75. Most of our checks are over $20, said Becka, my waitress. There are a lot of ways to spend over $20.Theres more, but you get the picture. Brooks could not have done what he said, the scribe judged. According to Issenberg, he subsequently telephoned Brooks to ask about his puzzling claims. And Brooksafter laughingmade it official. He said that hed made some facts up:
ISSENBERG: I called Brooks to see if I was misreading his work. I told him about my trip to Franklin County, and the ease with which I was able to spend $20 on a meal. He laughed. I didnt see it when I was there, but its true, you can get a nice meal at the Mercersburg Inn, he said. I said it was just as easy at Red Lobster. That was partially to make a point that if Red Lobster is your upper end? he replied, his voice trailing away. That was partially tongue-in-cheek, but I did have several mini-dinners there, and I never topped $20.Are we the only ones who can read? By his own words, Brooks admits that he faked the claim about how much you could pay for a meal in Franklin County. In the Atlantic, Brooks said that he had tried to spend twenty bucks at the countys fanciest eat-place. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it, he wrote. But when he later spoke with Issenberg, he broke an old habit and told him the truth. Brooks had actually ordered mini-dinnersnot the giant spreads hed described. And surprise! The mini-dinners Brooks wolfed down had cost less than $20.
Do you like it when writers just lie in your face? If so, it seems that Brooks is your man! Indeed, Brooks has done exactly what Stephen Glass did when he almost destroyed the New Republic; because the truth didnt make a good tale, he invented fake facts to create a great story. As almost anyone would, we thought of Glass when we read Issenbergs piece because the similarity with Brooks is so obvious. [I]t became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home, Issenberg writes. This is because Brooks made up facts, just the way Glass had done.
In real life, the New Republic almost went down because of Glass endless faking. So if you have a taste for low, mordant chuckles, check Noam Scheiber at the current TNR, hotly defending Brooks fake stories (and trashing Issenberg, who got the facts right). Indeed, if you check Scheibers defense of Brooks, youll get a taste of the deep dysfunction routinely displayed by your modern-day press corps. Meanwhile, THE HOWLER waits for Atlantic Monthly to tell readers what Brooks has done.
Well look at Scheibers piece tomorrow. But lets get clear on what happened. David Brooks made up some fake facts. Sasha Issenberg followed, and dug out the truth. So what did Noam Scheiber do? Of course! He defended Brooks, and pissed on Issenberg! Our question: How long will TNR visit these wild boys upon us?
TOMORROW: The wild boys of M Street
LATEST PAP FROM THE TIMES PERFUMED PAGES: Last Tuesday, the New York Times published a foolish piece in which David Sanger was shocked-shocked-shocked by problems with Richard Clarkes book (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/30/04 and 4/1/04). Franklin Miller, a White House official, had come forward with troubling complaints, saying that his recollection of 9/11 differed in some ways from Clarkes. As we noted, Millers complaints were astoundingly trivial, but he stuck in the knife about Clarkes motivations. Clarkes book was a much better screenplay than reality was, Miller said, hoping youd draw the obvious conclusion. Sanger put this quote in his opening paragraph, than ran than Millers absurd objections, pretending the complaints were newsworthy.
It was amazing to think that the New York Times would publish such a foolish report. But today, the papers op-ed page extends the clowning with a pointless column by Daniel Schacter. Schacter, a Harvard psychology prof, is author of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. The brilliant sage proceeds to explain why Clarke and Miller have different recollections.
Of course, Schacter doesnt know if the two men have different recollections; Miller may just be lying, as almost anyone (except Sanger) would have instantly realized. But no matter! The Times published Sangers silly piece, and now Collins and Shipley swing into action, publishing a pointless rumination on Sangers piece. Schacter proceeds to tell us the following, and no, were not making this up:
SCHACTER: [E]rrors are sometimes associated with the memory sin of misattribution, where we remember aspects of an experience correctly but attribute them to the wrong source. For instance, a college student recalled that she first learned of the Challenger explosion in 1986 from television, when the actual source was a group of friends.Schacter skipped a more recent example: For instance, an American president recalled that he saw the first plane hit the World Trade Center on television, when the actual event wasnt televised.
Sangers report should never have been published. But you know the Times op-ed page! Last week, they gave us nonsense from Marlene Heath (see below). Today, they offer pointless insights from Schacter. Readers, did you realize that peoples memories differ? In case you never took Schacters course, the Times rushed his work into print.
FOR ANOTHER DAY: Remind us to recall the time Professor E (Harvard psych) explained his remarkable specialty.
HEATHERS: Yesterday, the New York Times published four letters on social promotionreplies to Marlene Heaths strange column on the subject (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/30/04). One of the letters was, alas, less than helpful. It came from another of them perfesser fellersa history prof in Hawaii:
NEW YORK TIMES LETTER: Marlene Heaths experience with grade promotion based on accomplishment rather than age makes me think that there is hope. Perhaps if more districts, or even individual teachers, adopted a policy of holding back students who have not mastered grade-appropriate skills, we would be able to abandon the punitive and stifling No Child Left Behind tests.The professer paints a pleasing picture, of urban schools where all the kids work on traditional grade level. This is pleasing, but, at present, a fantasy. A letter Carnegie Foundation honcho helps us recall why thats so:
NEW YORK TIMES LETTER: Whether you are for or against social promotion, it is clear from federal statistics, published in the Nations Report Card, that by the end of the fourth grade, more than half of African-American, Hispanic and American Indian students are performing below basic level on national exams.Note the key words: A majority of students entering urban high schools read at or below sixth-grade level. Heath, of course, painted a quite different picture. According to her puzzling account, she teaches in a Chicago school where all the children live in poverty. But she said that, even before Chicago outlawed social promotion, all but a few of her sixth-grade students were working on sixth-grade level! (The other two or three were nonreaders.) In a world like this, the occasional retention might make some sense. But this is not the world we actually live in; Heath seemed to be writing from Neptune. As this honchos letter helps us recall, vast blocks of kids in urban schools are far below traditional grade-level, even by the fourth or fifth grades. In such a situationthe one we face nowits absurd to think that we can simply outlaw social promotion.
The Times was foolish to publish Heaths column. But for the past forty years, urban systems have peddled such pappleasing pictures which misrepresent the state of affairs in our urban schools. Urban systems love glossing reality. And hapless editorslike those at the Timesrush to put their tales into print. Heaths column made no earthly sense. The Times was foolish to print it.
Luckily, a retired elementary teacher writes from the real worldNew York:
NEW YORK TIMES LETTER: The term social promotion has become a hot-button phrase, eliciting heated vocal responses on both sides. The phrase masks the real issue: What kind of intensive early intervention is being provided for students who cant read the word it, as described by Marlene Heath.Unlike Heath, that teacher is talking the talk. Many urban fourth-graders can barely read. Heaths description came from Mars, as did her pleasing solution. Sadly, perfumed editors at our great papers never seem able to tell.
More on these topics to follow. We still need to know what to do with our legions of deserving sixth-grade kids who are far below traditional grade level.