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Daily Howler: Dale didn't like the UN's facts. So she invented a new one
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DIALING IT DOWN! Dale didn’t like the UN’s facts. So she invented a new one: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2007

MILLER’S LAMENT: Yesterday, we missed a key word when we discussed those Rutgers players. Like so many average Americans, these young women are “much smarter and much more decent than most of the adult commentary which has swirled around them,” we said. Later, we realized we’d dropped a key word: “sincere.” In this morning’s Washington Post, Sally Jenkins gets at that quality—and she notices that the Rutgers players are just better people than some others:
JENKINS (4/12/07): When Essence Carson took the microphone to speak for the Rutgers team, you saw Imus's problem and why it hasn't gone away. In comparison with that blameless face and voice, his slur seemed tangibly, specifically abhorrent, and you felt it all over again. How could any intelligent person conjure such verbiage as "nappy-headed hos" in the first place, much less apply it to such a nice kid?
Meanwhile, these players—and their coach—aren’t pre-judging Imus, Jenkins writes. “Asked in a radio interview yesterday if she thought Imus was a racist, [Coach] Stringer pointedly replied that she would wait to meet him in person before deciding.”

On Tuesday, we were struck by the sincerity of those players (and their coach; and their president) as compared, not just with Imus himself, but with much of the commentary happening around them. With the commentary of Sally Jenkins, for example, who goes on to offer this tired, stale script:
JENKINS: The Scarlet Knights have decided to meet Imus face to face. And personally, I believe it's the right thing to do. They aren't looking for a punishment that fits the crime, or to join a mob action, and they can reach their own conclusions without being stampeded by Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson into demanding Imus's resignation. They have a chance to get something more meaningful from him: a full-fledged conversion.
By Jesse “Hymietown” Jackson! As so many others have done this week—as Imus himself keeps doing—Jenkins reaches back some 23 years to recall a statement Jackson once made. Why does she have to go back all those years? Duh! Because Jackson has made no other such statements in those 23 years! But so what? A string of pundits have filed forward this week 1) condemn the I-man’s remarks and 2) condemn the people who stood up to confront them. For example, Dennis Miller offered this twofer on last evening’s O’Reilly Factor. He criticized Imus—then railed about Sharpton. For the record, O’Reilly defended Sharpton. “I have to disagree,” he said. “I think that Sharpton had a very well thought-out argument, at least on this program.”

We were glad when the Rutgers players got the chance to be seen for the people they are. As Jenkins notes, Essence Carson “is a straight-A student, a classical pianist, a composed speaker and someone's child.” Of course, other young women who may be less accomplished were also slimed by the Imus team’s comments. We were thrilled when the Rutgers president told his players, “We have your back.” But all young women, not just those players, deserve to know that others will have their back when such stupid comments are made. Indeed, all young black women were getting supported in the wake of those idiot comments. And let’s get serious; in large part, this happened because Sharpton complained.

But alas! When Jackson and Sharpton stand to complain, the Millers and Jenkinses slap them around. But there’s one thing Miller never had to worry about; he never had to worry that Dems and liberals would defend our own leaders against foolish Imus. We’ve waited to move on to this topic this week; we wanted to see the Rutgers women get their much-deserved days in the sun. But Essence Carson isn’t alone in having been stupidly slandered by Imus; Big Dems have been stupidly slandered too, and this has occurred for many years now. Did Dems and liberals stand to complain? Please. You must be dreaming.

Sorry! We liberals and Democrats don’t do windows—and we don’t bother “having the backs” of our leaders. For fifteen years, we liberals and Democrats have tended toward silence while our leaders got slandered and slaughtered. Indeed, Imus was at it again just last week, attacking the two “most evil people on earth.” Yes, that is the term he used. No, he didn’t seem to be joking.

Tomorrow, we’ll mention those other two Imus targets. But no one bothered to stand up for them; over the course of the past fifteen years, we liberals and Dems haven’t bothered with that. Result? Guess who the president is today? Guess who is mired in Iraq?

TOMORROW: Our party’s twin Satans.

JACQUES STEINBERG’S COMEDY STYLINGS: On balance, we thought we were glad to see Imus taken off TV, but when we read Jacques Steinberg today, we almost began to rethink it. In the Times, he boo-hoo-hoos about the vile program’s bad, bad, very-very bad comedy. Yes, we know, Steinberg’s “just reporting”—but his point of view is fairly clear. In the process, Steinberg helps show why it’s hard to critique a good deal of the Imus show’s work.

Poor Steinberg! The evil is all around him today—although a Nexis search shows that he’s never bothered to comment on Imus before. (Before his cohort’s consensus had formed.) Silent before, he sees it all now! Here he is critiquing a recurrent feature on Imus:

STEINBERG (4/12/07): [Imus sidekick Bernard] McGuirk, for example, periodically fashions an oversize FedEx envelope into a cone on his head to do a profane caricature of Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York. Using a high-pitched Irish brogue (the same voice Mr. McGuirk long used to lampoon Cardinal John O'Connor, before his death), the producer-as-cardinal said on the March 16 installment of the show that ''the only thing Hillary Clinton has in common with the late great President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, God rest his soul, is that they both enjoyed extramarital affairs with women.''
By the way: Does that last sentence mean that McGuirk has accused Clinton of “enjoy[ing] extramarital affairs with women?” Does it mean that Imus himself has done so? We’ll return to these puzzling questions below. First, let Steinberg wring his hands further:
STEINBERG (continuing directly): A former altar boy who is the son of Irish immigrants, Mr. McGuirk, who is in his mid-40s and writes his own material, also had his Cardinal Egan make homosexual slurs about Anderson Cooper and describe Mr. Imus's wife as having multiple sexual partners in her husband's absence. Mr. Imus, watching from alongside Mr. McGuirk onstage in Boston, where the show was being broadcast live, could be seen laughing but said nothing in response.

As he always does, Mr. McGuirk's cardinal ended his homily: ''In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,'' he said, ''it is Imus on life support we want the most.'' The other players, including Charles McCord, Mr. Imus's news reader, responded in unison, ''Lord, hear our prayer.''
For the record, this is part of what Imus means when he says his program trashes everyone hard, not excluding himself.

In context, Steinberg’s censorious tone is clear. But uh-oh! In our view, McGuirk’s “profane caricature” of Cardinal Egan is one of the few Imus features which is actually funny—and yes, it’s quite intriguing. In this feature, McGuirk—an angry East Coast Irish Catholic—does an over-the-top parody of a certain strain of angry, compulsively sexualized East Coast Irish Catholicism. McGuirk’s Cardinal Egan sees sex in all things, and he compulsively, profanely denounces it always. (Meanwhile, he’s constantly praying for Imus’ death. Yes, this too reflects a kooky part of our East Coast Irish Catholic culture.) In this feature, “We Irish” are weirdly mocking ourselves—and uh-oh! The feature provides an intriguing look at the angry, compulsively sexualized version of East Coast Irish Catholicism which has formed a large part of our national discourse in the past fifteen years. Yep! Over the past fifteen years, a long list of sex-obsessed East Coast Irish Catholics have trooped across the Imus stage, denouncing Bill and Hillary Clinton and endlessly trashing the vile Al Gore for his troubling propinquity to same. (Gore “doesn’t seem very American, even,” the sexual crackpot Chris Matthews once told Imus. “He doesn’t look like one of us.”) But then, this throwback version of Irish Catholicism has also been visible in Steinberg’s own paper, and at the Washington Post to boot, where Michael Kelly wrote so many long, crackpot rants about how utterly vile Gore was. Steinberg won’t tell you that, of course, at least until a new consensus has formed. But we’ve never seen a comedy performance which tackles this culture in the way McGuirk does. We’ve taped the Imus program for years, to watch the various journalist interviews. For us, McGuirk’s “Cardinal Egan” has been the only other part of this program we’ve ever chosen to watch.

But then, everything has Steinberg a-quiver today, now that Imus is an Approved Press Corps Target. Daintily teasing the racism out, he describes another feature:
STEINBERG (continuing directly): Similarly Rob Bartlett, another impressionist who often appears on the show (and who has appeared on Broadway) visited on Dec. 4 to do one of his regular characters: Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, only reimagined as a belligerent illiterate evocative of Jose Jimenez, the Spanish-accented simpleton from the old ''Steve Allen Show.''

On Dec. 4 Mr. Bartlett as Mr. Gonzalez lamented the intransigence of President Bush, whom he addressed as ''el jefe,'' on a host of issues, saying, ''He don't listen to nothing from nobody,'' before adding, ''I'm talking Helen Keller time here.''
Does that mean that Bartlett has compared George Bush to Helen Keller? Does it mean that Imus has done so? And by the way: Is there any reason why comedians shouldn’t be mocking, picking at, the connection between Gonzalez and Bush? But now that Imus is the target, the Steinbergs are bothered by every vile nuance. Here he is, saying eek-a-mouse about one more Imus feature:
STEINBERG: For the most part the Imus supporting cast is a group of middle-aged white men, all of whom do some comedy writing or performing on the show. Sometimes their fingerprints are little seen. For example Mr. McCord, who has served as Mr. Imus's straight man (and often straitjacket) for more than three decades, ghost-writes [impressionist Larry] Kenney's outrageous monologues as Mr. Falwell and Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Kenney said.

On Feb. 26, for example, the fake Mr. Falwell said of the N.B.A. All-Star weekend, ''Congratulations to Commissioner David Stern for staging a, well, basically a race riot—403 arrests, brother Don, over half for prostitution. Whores, Brother Imus. Scarlet sisters.''
Did Kenney say that about that event? Or was it really his “fake Mr. Falwell”—his parody Falwell, the parody figure who is constantly warning Imus about the “whores” and the “scarlet sisters?” For ourselves, we don’t (wouldn’t) do this type of comedy. But it isn’t perfectly easy to say where McGuirk leaves off and “fake Egan” begins; ditto Kenney and his fake Falwell. Similarly, it isn’t easy to say what is (and isn’t) “over the line” when parody characters make stupid, obsessive, even unpleasant comments. For example, was it wrong for McGuirk’s “fake Cardinal Egan” to make that sex-obsessed charge about Clinton? As we’ve said, we wouldn’t (don’t) do that sort of thing ourselves—and yes, we think the overall content of this show has been problematic, even in the parts of the show which aren’t plainly objectionable. But the judgments here aren’t quite as easy as people like Steinberg are now pretending—as they break their decade-long silence and eagerly jump on the pile.

Last week, Imus and McGuirk spoke in their own voices when they insulted those Rutgers players. Each man has made wildly inappropriate comments in his own voice before. But in much of this program’s content, it isn’t clear just “who” is speaking. By the way: We’ll guess this may be the case with that “cleaning lady” remark concerning Gwen Ifill, who decided to write a column about it without really knowing what had actually happened. Did Imus call Ifill a “cleaning lady?” On Tuesday’s Today show, Imus said this about that:
IMUS (4/10/07): OK. To try to hang the Gwen Ifill thing on me, which I discussed with Reverend Sharpton yesterday, that happened back during the Reagan administration and it was a—this is a comedy show. I'm not a newsman. This is not Meet The Press. We don't—anything we say—it's not an excuse, but context is important. There's a difference between premeditated murder and a gun going off accidentally. I mean, somebody still gets shot but the charges are dramatically different. I never said anything about Gwen Ifill. This was a—this was a comedy routine called—where we make up the news which we have doing since 1968 on the radio.
Lauer didn’t follow up, and Imus, who isn’t especially articulate, didn’t clarify further. We haven’t seen his two hours with Sharpton, so we don’t know what he may have said there. But trust us—in this, as in a thousand things, you’ll never learn what actually happened from reading or watching the mainstream press corps. Endless scribes have written this week that Imus called Ifill a cleaning lady. (Those who are a bit more clever add some version of “reportedly.”) But we’ve seen no sign that any scribe has actually tried to find out what happened. (Could it have been McGuirk’s “fake O’Connor” who made this comment? Could it have been McGuirk himself? If so, does that mean that Imus said it?) And omigod! They’re so predictable! Here’s the way Imus’ comment to Lauer was “edited,” in a taped excerpt that was played on Countdown and Scarborough Country that night:
IMUS (4/10/07): OK. To try to hang the Gwen Ifill thing on me, which I discussed with Reverend Sharpton yesterday, that happened back during the Reagan administration and it was a—this is a comedy show. I'm not a newsman. This is not Meet The Press. We don't—anything we say—it's not an excuse, but context is important.
Perfect! They omitted his claim that he didn’t say it—then continued to scold him for saying it! But so it goes, whenever this gang falls in love with its latest group script. There’s little attempt to find out what happened; every matter must be hammered until it fits the pre-approved pattern. And be clear, be very clear: Over the course of the past fifteen years, these disgraceful practices has most often been used to harm the interests of Dems and progressives. The U.S. Army is in Iraq because we kept letting them do this.

Imus has said a lot of dumb things over the years; we plan to discuss these problems tomorrow. But you know the ways of that mainstream press corps! After a decade of puzzling silence, Steinberg is deeply offended today. Why, he’s offended by everything, now—now that a brilliant new script has been written. They wait until a consensus is formed. Then they all jump on the pile.

The Rutgers women are waiting to judge. We know one thing—they’d make lousy “journalists!”

Special report: The 90 percent conundrum!


PART 3—DIALING IT DOWN: Have we mentioned yet that our national press corps has an instinct for getting its basic facts wrong? Even at the New York Times, that brain-jangling “90 percent conundrum” would turn out to be a bit too much for the various writers and editors. On February 3, when the world was young, the mighty Times had gotten it right; the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had released Part 1 of its three-part report, and the mighty Times had correctly described one of the panel’s key findings (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/07). Human-generated greenhouse gases had caused most the warming of the past fifty years, and the IPCC had stated this judgment “with near certainty—more than 90 percent confidence.” Other papers misstated the level of certainty, saying it was 90 percent—nothing more. But at the Times, an editorial and a follow-up report kept stating the accurate value:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (2/4/07): A distillation of the best peer-reviewed science, the report expresses more than 90 percent certainty that man-made emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have caused the steady rise in atmospheric temperatures, with the destruction of tropical rain forests playing a lesser but important role.

REVKIN (2/6/07): The [report], released on Friday in Paris, was the first from [the IPCC] to pinpoint with greater than 90 percent certainty that humans had become the main force driving warming and that centuries of increasing temperatures and seas could be blunted only if emissions of heat-trapping gases were promptly reduced.
Each passage could have been worded more precisely—but Revkin, and the paper’s editors, both had the level of certainty right. But people, nothing gold can stay! By last weekend, the IPCC had released Part 2 of its report—and in a new editorial, the editors bungled the degree of certainty which had been expressed in Part 1. Meanwhile, for unknown reasons, Revkin himself has changed his construction about the certainty in Part 1, using a totally new construction. His new construction is close to correct. But alas! It’s slightly wrong.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the various ways the Times has reported that level of certainty. And we’ll also look at the Washington Post, where Juliet Eilperin has reported the certainty two different ways—both wrong. But before we ponder these endless pratfalls, let’s enjoy some comic relief. Let’s move ahead to the Washington Times! Let’s see how a great newspaper with worlds to conquer will just play its readers for fools.

What did the Washington Times tell the rubes when the IPCC released Part 1? On February 3, Stephen Dinan swallowed hard and offered this. It was accurate—but it was vague:
DINAN (2/3/07): The White House yesterday embraced a new international report faulting humans for global warming, marking the furthest President Bush has gone in placing blame...

The report, released in Paris by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the fact that the Earth is now warming "is unequivocal," and said it is "very likely" that human activity is responsible for many of the changes.
Give them credit! Yes, they put it “inside,” on page 3—but they didn’t engage in outright lying. According to Dinan’s somewhat clumsy presentation, the IPCC said it was “very likely” that human activity was causing much current warming. (The panel said “most.”) But uh-oh! Dinan failed to tell Times readers what the highlighted phrase “very likely” meant! He didn’t tell readers that the IPCC had expressed a high level of certainty—more than 90 percent. Readers were left to make what they would of that vague phrase: “very likely.”

Give them credit—they hadn’t lied! Dinan had stated something resembling the report’s key judgment—and he quoted the IPCC saying this judgment was “very likely.” But uh-oh! Elsewhere in the world of the Times, Dinan’s report wasn’t going down well. Helle Dale, the paper’s former Editorial Page Editor, still writes a weekly column there—a column which is widely syndicated. (Just click here for her bio). Result? As any good enthusiast would, Dale decided to devote her next column to the IPCC’s new report.

The column appeared on February 7, ironically headlined “Just the facts.” Dale began with a rueful look at a day in the life of a hoaxer:
DALE (2/7/07): As I braved the bitter cold and howling winds on Monday night, dragging our two reluctant dogs dressed in their overcoats out for their final walk of the day, fond thoughts of global warming presented themselves. Why is it, I wondered, that human beings assume that the Earth has reached its absolutely ideal temperature and that any change is considered a disaster of apocalyptic proportion? Wellington, Ripken (they would be the dogs) and I would gladly have traded a few degrees up and one imagines so would the recipients of the giant snowfalls that paralyzed the Midwest at Christmas time.
Dale is nothing if not a deep thinker. Soon, she was rolling her eyes at “[t]he chorus of cheers that on Feb. 2 greeted the release” of the IPCC report. Troubled by the “orthodoxy that you question at your peril if you are a scientist or a politician,” Dale decided to dial it on down! How did she defeat this troubling orthodoxy? Simple! She invented a “fact:”
DALE: Al Gore is now being solicited for a second run for the president by enthusiastic supporters and the fact that he was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his movie "Inconvenient Truth" and other emissions, as good as proves he is right...Given that the policy implications of the climate change agenda could very well have highly detrimental effects on real human lives in terms of jobs, living standards, etc., all of this is very disturbing. That global warning is real and the cause of human activity is now being discussed as a fact, even though the U.N. panel only found it "very likely" that human activity caused a rise in temperatures in the second half of the 20th century. "Very likely" according to the U.N. report, means "66-90 percent" likely which seems a far cry from certitude.
Good old Helle! She knew what the IPCC had found—that human activity has “very likely” caused most warming in the past fifty years. But then she worked some familiar magic, running the IPCC right off the rails. Omigod! She misstated what the term “very likely” meant—and when she misstated, she misstated big! Then, she said that her new, reduced level of confidence “seems a far cry from certitude!”

Indeed, a “66 percent” degree of confidence does seem like “a far cry from certitude.” Presumably, that’s why Dale invented this value, misstating the claims of a major report. The IPCC had actually said that its certainty was “more than 90 percent.” But Times readers wouldn’t be forced to read that. Helle Dale dialed the numbers way back!

Yep! At the Washington Post and the New York Times, various reporters were having some trouble getting that level of certainty right. But over at the Washington Times, Dale had put the world’s troubles behind her. Lustily yodeling “hey you dumb f*cking rubes,” the scribe had simply dialed back the warming! Of course, this happens at the Times all the time. And paper-trained scribes at our mainstream news orgs have politely agreed not to tell.

TOMORROW—PART 4: Back at the nation’s two major rags, Goldberg ended up with three watches.