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Daily Howler: At some point, the mainstream press corps passed its torch to Countdown
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THE TORCH IS PASSED! At some point, the mainstream press corps passed its torch to Countdown: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 2008

AMBITION IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD: In this post, Digby quotes Kevin Drum regarding John McCain’s ambition. Here’s the chunk she quoted:

DRUM (4/24/08): [F]or all the talk about how ambitious Hillary is, does anyone really doubt that McCain has her well beaten on that score? He ran as a conservative bulldog in 2000, he moderated his positions and seriously considered switching parties to run as VP in 2004, and then switched back to Mr. Conservative afterward to prep for yet another run in 2008. McCain really, really, REALLY wants to be president. Isn't it about time someone noticed that?

“Even I hadn't actually thought of it in quite that way,” Digby writes. (We don’t blame her.) “This guy is old, he's rich, he's famous, he's had cancer and he's not particularly popular in his own party...[L]ast summer he was pretty much out and he just ground it out until he got the nomination. What's driving McCain?”

We don’t know the answer to that. Nor do we think there’s anything automatically wrong with being ambitious. But according to one biographical profile, McCain has been talking about the White House for a very long time.

During Campaign 2000, Nicholas Kristof, then a reporter, profiled McCain for the New York Times. In the piece, one of McCain’s fellow POWs dated his presidential ambition back to 1970. We’ll quote a fairly large chunk of the piece. The presidential pondering comes near the end:

KRISTOF (2/27/00): In 1976, some local Republicans urged Mr. McCain to run for Congress against the longtime Democratic incumbent, Charles E. Bennett...

Politics was not an entirely new idea, for Mr. McCain had always been far more ambitious than he liked to let on. Connie Bookbinder, Carol McCain's college roommate and close friend, realized early on that this young Navy man had plenty of dreams."

When they were dating," Mrs. Bookbinder recalled, "I asked Carol: 'What does John want to do with his life? Does he want to be an admiral like his dad?' She said, 'He wants to do something important, so he'll be in the history books.' "

Mr. McCain let the scope of his ambitions slip out again in fall 1970, when he was in Vietnam and four of the prisoners of war were put together in a cell. They spent a couple of weeks talking nonstop, and the conversation soon touched on their dreams...

"We asked John what he wanted to be—chief of naval operations?" recalled Richard A. Stratton, one of those present. "He said, no, the best job in the Navy is commander in chief of the Pacific forces, because then you're chief warrior. But he said that what he really wanted to be was president.

"With him, it's no flash in the pan, no sudden dream," Mr. Stratton said. "He's been thinking of this for a long time."

We don’t think we’ve ever seen Stratton’s comment cited. Therein lies a (novelized) tale.

You see, by the time of Campaign 2000, the mainstream press corps had decreed that presidential ambition was unseemly—a sign of a troubling character flaw. (It meant that you were like Bill Clinton.) One result of this foolishness was quite clear. Mainstream journalists flogged ridiculous “evidence,” thereby saying that the deeply troubling Al Gore had sought the White House from the moment of birth. Meanwhile, they actively buried suggestions that the other candidates ever had such ambitions. This was most striking in the case of Bill Bradley, who had clearly been planning a political career at least since college. (To which we say, Good for him!) Indeed: By the time Bradley was 30 years old, he had actively investigated the possibility of running for the House from two different states, and he’d actively sought the chance to run for state office in Missouri. He decided to pass on all three campaigns. He then won a Senate seat when he was just 35.

People! When he was still in the NBA, his nickname was “Mister President!” But under the rules of the press corps’ dime novel, journalists agreed to work very hard to avoid this part of his story. Indeed, in their highly novelized tale, Bradley was a “quirky, nonpolitical type” with a “compelling nonpolitical story,” “a life that begins outside politics.” Gore was ambitious—just like Bill Clinton. By contrast, the unassuming Bradley “didn’t have to win to be complete.” (These quotes come from—who else?—Howard Fineman. But they were widely echoed.)

McCain’s confession to Stratton disappeared in the midst of this nonsense too.

To review this story in more detail, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/07. But here’s the key point: By the time of Campaign 2000, an astounding amount of the work the press corps gave you was, in fact, a novel. Everything was hammered until it fit the story they wanted to tell.

Was Stratton’s recollection accurate? Did it reflect a youthful ambition on McCain’s part? We don’t know—and the mainstream “press corps” pretty much didn’t want you to care.

By the way: In late 1999, Chris Matthews busted a gasket dumping “ambition” on a Senate candidate’s head. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/7/06.) In this era, much of our political discourse has been a carefully crafted dime novel—and Jack Welch’s hired boys have been typing the tale for a very long time. Kevin puzzled at the idea that Clinton, not McCain, is viewed as ambitious. If you want to know why that is, we suggest you click our links and review your press corps’ conduct.

Final point: Smelling big bucks, the fiery liberals at your “liberal journals” accepted this deeply noxious practice every single step of they way. They let Gore and Clinton be painted this way; they also sat back and stared into air while McCain’s shortcomings were disappeared. Their future pay-masters were writing this tale, and you and your interests could just go hang.

These scriveners now hold good jobs—and the “liberal” world still can’t come to terms with their inexcusable conduct.

They made a total joke of your discourse. The liberal world still can’t quite care.

THE TORCH IS PASSED: The last week or so has been tough around here; events have made our young analysts fret. An unusual problem has affected their world—a problem which is seen again in this morning’s papers.

What’s the problem? With the rise of Candidate Obama, the problem this site was created to challenge has started receding into the background. There’s little in this morning’s papers for us to tackle, for example. In our view, the more interesting conduct this past week has come from the liberal world. This morning, for example, Paul Krugman implicitly challenges the judgment of his own paper’s editorial board. But it’s the liberal world he’s really challenging, not that of the mainstream press:

KRUGMAN (4/256/08): [H]ow negative has the Clinton campaign been, really? Yes, it ran an ad that included Osama bin Laden in a montage of crisis images that also included the Great Depression and Hurricane Katrina. To listen to some pundits, you'd think that ad was practically the same as the famous G.O.P. ad accusing Max Cleland of being weak on national security.

For ourselves, we didn’t think there was anything wrong with that Clinton ad. Omigod! A brief image of bin Laden! We thought this eek-a-mouse approach made little sense last year, when it was aimed at Giuliani; we think it’s even sillier now. But this is standard liberal thinking. It really isn’t the type of thinking this site was invented to challenge.

Was Clinton’s ad like the famous ad which said that Senator Cleland lacked “the courage to lead?” Not really, no—it just wasn’t. In fairness, the New York Times didn’t go that far in its eek-a-mouse editorial—but that’s the comparison Keith Olbermann made on Monday evening’s Countdown. But then, Countdown has almost surely become the most propagandized show in cable “news” history. Yes, you can still find pure crap in the mainstream press. But pure crap abounds now on Countdown.

When we started this site, the mainstream press corps took the cake (see item above). Now, our “liberal” cable show does—and that has our analysts bollixed.

How silly does it get on Countdown? Just watch any part of the show, any night! The propaganda flow starts right away, and it rarely stops.

What follows is a minor example. But just check out how sad—and familiar—this particular reasoning was.

Last night, Olbermann brought out Rachel Maddow, one of the perfectly-scripted players he presents every night. Could anything possibly be more gruesome than seeing a liberal cite Patrick Healy? Maybe not, but that’s what Olbermann did—and then he asked Maddow to explain “the Clinton electability argument.” It has two components, Maddow said. We’ll focus on the second part—on what she called “the numbers argument:”

MADDOW (4/24/08): Well, it has two components—there’s a biographical component and there is a numbers component. The biographical component is that Barack Obama is not as vetted as Hillary Clinton is. And even though we all can imagine or have nightmares about what kind of slime the Republicans might bring against Hillary Clinton in the fall, it pales in comparison to what they might throw at Barack Obama and how damaging it would be because he’s inexperienced in facing it. So, that’s the biographical argument.

The numbers argument is that Hillary Clinton’s strength in some swing states so far in the primary campaign indicates that she would be stronger against John McCain in those states than Barack Obama would. The two that she usually cites now are Ohio and Pennsylvania. But the implication is that by winning in those states—in those states the Democrats historically have to win in order to get the presidency, Hillary Clinton has shown in the primaries that she would be stronger in the general.

It’s a simple argument. It doesn’t necessarily bear out historically. I mean, you can ask Michael Dukakis how he felt in November 1988, looking back and hugging himself thinking how good it was that he won the Pennsylvania primary that year when he came nowhere near winning the state in the general election. But those are essentially been the two arguments she’s put forward.

We’d call that less gruesome than most Countdown fare. And yet, it’s groaningly weak, the kind of thing that has long characterized the world of the mainstream press corps. In her refutation, Maddow starts by mocking Michael Dukakis, “hugging himself” in November 1988 as he recalls his Pennsylvania primary win. She then mistakenly says that Dukakis “came nowhere near winning the state in the general election.” (In fact, Bush beat Dukakis in Pennsylvania fairly narrowly—by less than three points.) Of course, none of that is even vaguely relevant to the actual claim of the Clinton campaign—the claim that Clinton would have a better chance in Pennsylvania this fall than Obama would. In her presentation, Maddow argued an irrelevant point; she “proved” that the person who wins a Dem primary may not win the general election in that state. Of course, no one would ever be so dumb as to challenge that obvious fact—and that isn’t the claim she described before she began her refutation. But on Countdown, this sort of thing is standard fare. On Countdown, every fact—every argument—supports the preference of the host. As noted, this presentation was considerably less dumb than a good deal of what Olbermann shovels.

Would Clinton do better in Pennsylvania this fall? We would guess that she might, but we don’t really know. (It’s still hard to picture her winning nomination.) For the record, there are states where Obama might well do better than Clinton. For a discussion which isn’t completetotalcrap, click here and read Josh Marshall.

Maddow’s presentation is very familiar—familiar because it typifies the work of the mainstream press corps over these past many years. Maddow seems to know all the key moves: Mock a Big Dem. Then, Misstate your facts. In the process, Refute an argument nobody made. Garbage like this is pushed at young liberals night after night on this horrible show. Olbermann feeds on their gullibility like a thing which crawled out of a swamp.

On Monday, poor Olbermann, crying real tears, compared Clinton’s ad to the ad which was run against Cleland. We thought the Times editorial on that subject was daft. But the Times was displaying standard liberal thought, not the type of “Mainstream Press Think” which this site was created to challenge. In our view, the MSM has been less daft in the past week or so—the liberal world much more so.

We’re stunned each night by Olbermann’s show (when we can force ourselves to watch him). It points the way to a troubling future. We’ve never seen such pure propaganda, even on any particular Fox News Channel show. Is this how news orgs of the future will work? If so, Keith will be a hog in slop. It seems he was born to play liberals.

CHASING THE BIRDS: Keith has been a good boy in recent weeks; he has basically dropped his nightly feature of ridiculing young blonde women. We’ll guess: With all the complaints about MSNBC’s endless gender-trashing of Clinton, someone decided to cut this out too. If Obama becomes the Dem nominee, thereby ending the network’s problem with Clinton, will Keith return to beating on girls? His show is aimed at young liberal men. Presumably, Keith knows that tickling their latent distaste for girls is one more way he can please them.

At any rate, Wednesday evening saw Keith enjoying a rare bit of personal pleasure. Comedian Paul Mecurio had been asked to help kill the program’s final segment. Keith asked about the guys in those Abercrombie/Fitch tee-shirts—the ones who were visible as Obama spoke Tuesday night. Soon, Keith was running with Paul in the fields, very much as he used to:

MECURIO (2/23/08): Hi, Keith, how are you?

OLBERMANN: Let`s get at this from one particular angle. If that was not a plant by the company and the campaign did not plan that, doesn’t it make the campaign look kind of dopey? Didn’t they need somebody to look at the video before the senator spoke and say, “Move those three guys out of there?”

MECURIO: Absolutely, but I don’t believe the campaign. I think it was a plant. Remember when Barbara Bush said Hillary rhymes with “witch?” Well, Obama is sending a message to the world that she rhymes with “Fitch.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Actually, Barbara Bush said that Geraldine Ferraro “rhymed with rich,” way back in 1984. But so what? A minor change in a famous fact let the gentlemen gambol and play. Back to the fun: “You’re saying it was to get everybody to think that Hillary Clinton was rich,” Keith playfully countered. “Don`t want to get the network in any more trouble.” And then, Paul helped his host feel young again! He picked up another old chestnut:

OLBERMANN: Anyway, it is 24 hours since the speech, nearly. There is not as much as an ID of any of these three guys. There are direct appeals on the Internet from a bunch of political bloggers and writers. Are these the only three college-aged guys in America who don`t want publicity and TV exposure?

MECURIO: No, don’t worry about them. In our culture, in 24 hours, they’ll have their own reality show on VH-1. Trust me. The reality is, if they really wanted to get known, they would do something to get seen, like sleep with Lindsay Lohan. Then again, who hasn’t?

OLBERMANN (watching the video): Is that Lindsay Lohan, by the way, on his left? Is that her? No.

MECURIO: It might be. Exactly!

Omigod! It was heaven! According to Nexis, it had been several months since Keith had called Lohan a slut.

For ourselves, we learned to dislike Olbermann watching him stroke his thigh this way. But we’ll have to admit it—we felt happy for him Wednesday night, seeing him back in his element. We thought of the final chapter of Virginia Woolf’s Flush, when “Flush was growing an old dog now.” In his old age, a sleeping Spaniel rode to the hounds once again:

WOOLF: The sun burnt deliciously through the lily leaves, and through the green and white umbrellas. The marble statue tempered its heat to a champagne freshness. Flush lay and let it burn through the fur to the naked skin. And when he was roasted on one side he turned over and let the sun roast the other. All the time the market people were chattering and bargaining; market women were passing; they were stopping and fingering the vegetables and the fruit. There was a perpetual buzz and hum of human voices such as Flush loved to listen to. After a time, he drowsed off under the shadow of the lilies. He slept as dogs sleep when they are dreaming. Now his legs twitched—was he dreaming that he hunted rabbits in Spain? Was he coursing up a hot hill-side with men yelling, “Span! Span!” as the rabbits darted from the brushwood? Then he lay still again. And now he yelped, quickly, softly, many times in succession. Perhaps he heard Dr. Mitford egging his greyhounds on to the hunt at Reading. Then his tail wagged sheepishly. Did he hear old Miss Mitford cry, “Bad dog! Bad dog!” as he slunk back to her, where she stood among the turnips waving her umbrella? And then he lay for a time snoring, wrapt in the deep sleep of happy old age.

In this way, on life’s final day, Flush chased through the fields once again. No, you can’t build progressive politics by having a smarmy old coot teach young liberal men to hate women. But we’ll admit it—we felt glad for Keith Wednesday night as Paul freed his soul once again.

Somewhere, Rachel was telling the press how brilliant Chris really is.

THE CRITICS RAVED: For Virginia Woolf’s Flush, a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s pet cocker. If you believe what’s on the back cover:

“A masterpiece...It is not fiction because it has the substance, the reality of truth. It is not biography because it has the freedom, the artistry of fiction.”
—Ellen Glasgow, N. Y. Herald Tribune Books

“A most triumphant trespassing of human imagination into dog sensibilities...The result is a book of irresistible grace and charm.”
—Ross Macauley, Spectator

We’ve loved it since our late teen years. We strongly recommend it.