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FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2011

The wages of incomprehension: The wages of incomprehension become rather clear in today’s New York Times.

For the record, we’re speaking about elite incomprehension—the kind found on the editorial board of the New York Times.

Yesterday, the editors wrote a thoroughly clueless editorial (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/28/11). Today, we start to see the results of their failure to comprehend:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (4/28/11): Your editorial never poses and never answers the most obvious of questions. Why did President Obama not release the long-form birth certificate when the birthplace question first arose? What makes the release now, years later, “tactically smart,” as opposed to releasing the certificate a long time ago?

One would have thought that the “eminently rational” response to the “political irrationality” and “silliness” of the birth issue would have been to put the best evidence on the table at the outset, not wait until now.

DONALD NAWI
Scarsdale, N.Y., April 28, 2011

Unfortunately, Nawi is right. As we noted yesterday, the clueless editors failed to address the questions and claims that continue to swirl in the wider discussion—questions and claims which keep driving this nonsense along.

Why didn’t Obama release the long-form certificate three years ago? People like Nawi are hearing this question in the world of conservative talk. The question comes with several insinuations: Obama was playing politics all along! (That seems to be Nawi’s suggestion.) Or: Maybe this alleged new document is really just a fake!

Nawi is right when he says the editors skipped right past this question. He is also right when he says that this was an obvious question. But the editors live in a fancy board room located very high on Olympus. They’re too dumb, too lazy, too self-enthralled to immerse themselves in the parts of the world where questions like this are swirling.

Most likely, the editors were simply too dumb to know that Nawi’s question is driving the debate on this garbage.

The editors should have answered that question, as we noted yesterday. They should have explained what happened in 2008, a year they didn’t seem able to name. Here it is: In 2008, Obama released his home state’s sole official birth document, the so-called “short form” birth certificate. (To his credit, Nawi understands the terminology of this discussion. Yesterday, the editors pretty much didn’t.) The document Obama released at that time was his state’s legal birth document; it’s the kind of document any citizen gets from the state of Hawaii if he requests his birth certificate. The “long form” document released this week is not an official state document. Indeed, Obama had to get a special legal ruling from the state of Hawaii before this new document could be released to him, let alone to the public.

Fairly obviously, that is why Obama didn’t release the “long form” document “when the question first arose.” It was a massive flaw in the editors’ work that they didn’t explain this fact. Their cluelessness leads directly to letters like Nawi’s, just as we explained yesterday. And guess what? Nawi isn’t alone! Many people read yesterday’s editorial and wondered why the editors ignored this obvious question.

Many conservative readers, people like Nawi, thought the editors were ducking this rather obvious question. That helps keep this bullshit alive.

As we explained yesterday, the editors skipped this seminal point in part because they were rushing ahead to an Official Approved Highly Pleasing Standard Group Talking-Point—the kind of talking-point pseudo-journalists truly love. In a second letter, a liberal reader recites this pleasing script:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (4/29/11): It is unfortunate that President Obama felt obligated to respond to the challenge of his citizenship by the extremist wing of the Republican Party and the zany, reckless and pompous Donald Trump. Mr. Obama’s providing a full copy of his “long form” certificate of birth probably did little to sway those who are so inclined to hate him that they would dispute any legitimate claim he has to be our leader.

President Obama was right to refer to the “carnival barkers” who fomented this nonissue and kept it alive, and even that characterization was tame.

A new anti-Obama alignment is now forming to tell us how the document he has made public is not legitimate, but rather the result of a plot between him and the State of Hawaii. Some people will never accept that a man of color, someone they will always consider to be “alien,” was able to win the presidency.

I am sad that the president dignified them by responding. Our nation has again been brought low.

OREN M. SPIEGLER
Upper St. Clair, Pa., April 28, 2011

Like Nawi, Spiegler understands the basic terminology of this discussion. (Yesterday, the editors pretty much didn’t.) But in this case, the writer is eager to recite the “liberal” world’s key talking-point: This garbage is about all race! Please note: Spiegler throws our culture’s most serious charge around, but he doesn’t bother to make himself clear about just who he is accusing. “Some people will never accept that a man of color was able to win the presidency,” he says. By that, does he mean that all birthers are driven by race? Are they the “some people” to whom he refers? His accusation isn’t clear—but so what? He got the talking-point out, like the editors. And the point feels good all the way down

We’ll discuss the racial claim below. For now, let’s consider the editors.

Yesterday, they failed to answer an obvious question, thus keeping hope alive in the highly gullible Obama-hating part of the electorate. But then, these people have always been too great, too grand, too haughty, too fine to see the real shape of the world.

Monumental nonsense has spewed from this room in the past twenty years of our lives. This board ran gong-show campaigns against Clinton and Gore. Today, the board is too dumb to know how to tackle the latest gong-show campaign, the one being waged on Obama.

WE ARE THE WORLD’S DUMBEST PEOPLE (permalink): On Wednesday morning, Barack Obama released the so-called “long form” version of his birth certificate—an outmoded document that is no longer used for any legal purpose. He had released the official form of his birth certificate three long years before.

On Wednesday, Obama released this second document. This touched off an orgy of world-class stupidity on Wednesday evening’s cable programs. But then, gross incompetence was widely displayed all through the mainstream “press.”

Even at this late date in our decline, it’s stunning to see how poorly our mainstream press corps functions. For simplicity sake, let’s try to break Wednesday night’s nonsense into three basic components:

They don’t know how to do facts: Your press corps has basically lost the ability to clarify facts. Consider this, the first exchange between Jim Lehrer and Dan Balz on Wednesday evening’s NewsHour:

LEHRER (4/27/11): Now to Dan Balz, national political correspondent for the Washington Post. Dan, welcome.

What is your read on why the president actually ended up doing this today, giving his full—releasing the full copy of his birth certificate?

BALZ: I think the president said what he meant at that brief scene in the briefing room today, and that is, he was upset that this issue was distracting from the issues that he wanted to talk about. During that week that he talked about, he did an interview with George Stephanopoulos from ABC News, and one of the questions was about this birther issue. And he was upset by that and what he saw in terms of other people being asked about it constantly. And he said, “Let’s see if we can get the real birth certificate,” and sent his legal team off to get it.

Good lord. In this, their first exchange, Balz and Lehrer established the notion that Obama had just released his “real” birth certificate. Lehrer didn’t challenge Balz’s language; he himself described the new document as the “full” copy of the certificate.

Earlier, Lehrer had managed to say the following: “Mr. Obama released the short version of his birth certificate during his campaign in 2008. Today, White House officials released the long form, showing again that he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961.” But he never explained that the “short version of his birth certificate” is the state of Hawaii’s official legal document—the state’s only official birth document. By the time Balz got done, viewers might well think that Obama has been withholding the “real” birth certificate for lo, these past three years.

It’s hardly surprising coming from Lehrer, but this was a grossly incompetent piece of “explanation.” This presentation almost seems designed to keep this nonsense alive. (Why didn’t Obama release his real birth certificate way back in 2008?) But then, the mainstream press has never been able to establish even the simplest facts of this case.

On quite a few occasions in the past three years, we have tried to get clear on the difference between the so-called “short” and “long” forms of this document. Even at our major “fact check” sites, the tyros didn’t seem up to the task of making the distinction clear. They didn’t seem to know what was being said in the wider discussion. They didn’t know what kinds of facts they needed to clarify.

The fact-check sites never made these facts clear. In the wider mainstream press, this incompetence continued right through this past Monday night. Consider:

On April 22, Politico published a long report on this general topic. (“Birtherism: Where it began.”) We were quite surprised by the highlighted facts:

SMITH AND TAU (4/22/11): Hawaii law prevents the long-form record from being photocopied or released to anyone—including Obama. Obama himself would only be permitted to inspect it–not copy it or post it online.

Fukino, an appointee of Linda Lingle, the former Republican governor and John McCain supporter, twice inspected the certificate. According to NBC News’ investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, the certificate is in a bound volume, in a file cabinet in the Hawaii Department of Health.

Say what? Obama himself was forbidden by law from releasing the “long form” document? For quite a long time, various crackpots had been asking why Obama had withheld this document. If Smith and Tau were right, they were reporting a hugely relevant fact—but in our various journeys, we had never seen anyone else report it.

As things turned out, Smith and Tau were right—Obama had to get a special legal ruling to let him release the “long form” document. But as late as Monday night, CNN still didn’t seem to understand this, even as the channel launched a special two-night attempt to clarify this general topic.

For two nights, Anderson Cooper clowned with Donald Trump, wearing his special furrowed-brow look to let us know that he disapproved of the things Trump was saying. And not only that! Cooper had sent Gary Tuchman to Hawaii to get the complete straight dope! But when Tuchman reported on Monday night, the hapless reporter said this:

TUCHMAN (4/25/11): So why won't President Obama just release a copy of his original birth certificate? Well, there are some who say he won't do it because the word "Muslim" is on it. But we've taken a look at the original vault birth certificate of another man, and while there are extra spaces on it for hospital and for ages of the parents and for the occupation of the father, there is no space whatsoever for religion.

And the former director of the Health Department, who has seen Barack Obama's original birth certificate, confirms there is no mention whatsoever of religion. The White House says in part no matter what Barack Obama says or does, there are many doubters who will still doubt.

Jesus. Even after Politico’s report, Tuchman showed no sign of knowing that Obama would be forbidden by law from “just releasing a copy of his original birth certificate.” This extremely relevant fact went unreported again.

Eventually, Tuchman threw to Cooper, who had his furrowed-brow look going. Here at THE HOWLER, we still didn’t known if Smith and Tau had been right.

Your “press corps” is a Potemkin village. In essence, they’re a gang of carnival barkers hired to impersonate journalists. They have long since lost the ability to establish, or even recognize, the most basic facts. This has simply ceased to be a serious part of their culture.

They love to send in the clowns: On Wednesday evening, Lawrence O’Donnell invited the utterly ludicrous Orly Taitz to guest on his cable “news” program. The very great, very fiery liberal teased Taitz all through the night:

O’DONNELL (4/27/11): The “first birther,” Orly Taitz, will join me and I’ll give her the chance to apologize to the president of the United States.

O’DONNELL: Later, I’ll give the original birther—yes, Orly Taitz!—the chance to come on this show and rewrite herself and apologize to the president of the United States.

O’DONNELL: Coming up…She’s the dentist who was the original birther! I’ll give her the chance to rewrite her conspiracy theories on this show with a simple apology to the president.

O’DONNELL: Coming up, lawyer and dentist Orly Taitz has dedicated more than two years of the 24 years she’s lived in the United States to proving that President Obama was not born in Hawaii. Next, I will ask her if she’s ready to apologize to the president.

Orly Taitz is a ginormous nut—one of the biggest in the jar. It’s conceivable that she’s mentally ill. But after all the teasing was done, O’Donnell was an even bigger fool than Taitz this particular night. He shouted and yelled and interrupted and kept talking over the ludicrous Taitz, giving us liberal rubes a very big thrill up our legs. (To watch the whole segment, click this.) Eventually, he killed Taitz’s microphone altogether, excitedly telling us this:

O’DONNELL: Get her out of here! Get her off this show! Get out! If you’re not going to talk about the birth certificate, Orly Taitz, go home! You’re fired! Go play with Donald Trump.

Look, she’s crazy. I invited a crazy person on the show to see if a crazy person faced with the thing that the crazy person was trying to get for two and a half years could say something responsive, something human to the document that was released today, that she’s never seen before in her life. And she wants to play with all of her other kids’ toys, all of her other crazy documents!

I did not expect this to go this way. I thought she was going to address the birth certificate. We were told she was going to address the birth certificate. She’s afraid to address the birth certificate obviously.

Great! This just gives us more time for Barney Frank. We’ll be right back with Barney Frank.

“I did not expect this to go this way.” If you believe that, we have a bridge to Taitz’s original home in Moldova that we’re willing to sell you.

By the way: Did O’Donnell really cut this segment short? Did this really give him “more time for Barney Frank?” Please. He broke for commercial, then returned with Frank—and the interview lasted exactly four minutes and five seconds. To watch the full segment, just click this. Could it have been any shorter?

Final point: After his very-short session with Frank, O’Donnell threw to Darling Rachel. Treating you like world-class fools, the adorable child said this:

MADDOW: Lawrence, I was quite transfixed by your conversation with Ms. Taitz. I wanted to know how you’re feeling.

O’DONNELL: It’s over, it’s behind us, and she’s over.

MADDOW: I hear you. That was brave and amazing. Thank you for doing it, Lawrence. Thanks a lot.

In Obama’s phrase, they’re “carnival barkers.” You, of course, are their marks. (This exchange with Maddow can be seen at the end of the Barney Frank segment.)

Others clowned on Wednesday night’s programs. Ed Schultz aggressively talked over Amy Holmes, letting us glory in his strength. Speaking with O’Donnell, Jonathan Capehart boo-hooed about his own academic hard times; in the process, he made it sound like Obama was a shit-bum the Harvard Law School found asleep inside an old carton. (Jonathan Alter quickly stepped in, repairing Capehart’s blunder.)

But O’Donnell took the cake. Do you trust these carnival barkers?

We are the world’s dumbest people: The mainstream press corps fumbled and flailed. But then, there’s us, the liberal world, for whom it just has to be race.

Has any group of human beings ever been any dumber? Major Democrats have been getting trashed in crackpot ways for lo, the past twenty years. The Clintons were crazily trashed, and so was Gore; after that, Kerry got “swift-boated.” (We’re so old that we can remember when liberals remembered that episode!) But every liberal has now memorized the most pleasing refrain in liberal politics—the refrain in which we insist that the crackpot trashing of Obama must be all about race!

On Wednesday, one of the genuine cowards of the pseudo-liberal world recited this point for O’Donnell. David Remnick discussed the way the idiot Trump is dissing Obama’s grades:

O’DONNELL: I want you to listen to something Donald Trump said in New Hampshire today.

REMNICK: Also my pleasure.

TRUMP (videotape): The word is, according to what I’ve read, that he was a terrible student when he went to Occidental. He then gets to Columbia. He then gets to Harvard. I heard at Columbia, he wasn’t a very good student. He then gets to Harvard. How did he get into Harvard if you’re not a good student?

O’DONNELL: Donald says this is according to what he has read. I have read your book. And I did not read that in your book.

REMNICK: No, you didn`t.

O’DONNELL: Clear this up for us.

REMNICK: What can I say, after all? We need to call this by its proper name. We need to call this by its proper name. This is race baiting. This is manipulative in the extreme.

While the world burns, while we have all kinds of problems in this country, Barack Obama is being slandered by the likes of Donald Trump, who one would have thought would know better.

We have no idea why Remnick said he would have thought that Donald Trump “would know better.” To recall Remnick’s cowardice in the face of an earlier slander campaign, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/06.

Eventually, Remnick got to the facts: “[Obama] was not a terrible student. He was a pretty good student at Occidental. He transferred to Columbia, was an even better student. And he got into Harvard Law School, no mean trick.”

“Barack Obama himself has discussed the fact that affirmative action may have played some role in getting into Harvard Law,” Remnick now said, undercutting his case. But Remnick knew what this had to be—this had to be race-baiting. He went on to offer an even more dramatic account of Trump’s suggestion that Obama’s couldn’t have written his own first book. Remnick compared this act of disrespect to the ancient belief that Frederick Douglass couldn’t have written his books.

Trump is one of the biggest buffoons ever allowed on the stage. But does this really have to be race? Major candidates have been getting mocked about their grades and their books for the past twenty years. What follows is a bit different from Trump’s complaints about Obama’s college grades. But on March 19, 2000, the Washington Post devoted 1600 front-page words to a mocking account of Candidate Gore’s college grades. David Maraniss pushed quite a few derisive buttons this day:

MARANISS (3/19/00): If Al Gore is commonly thought of as a grind, the sort of fellow who during his school days would take notes in precise Roman numeral outline, strive mightily to ingratiate himself with teachers, and bring sterling report cards home to his demanding parents, his academic transcripts go some way toward subverting that notion.

From his lower school years at St. Albans to his incomplete effort at Vanderbilt law school, Gore was often an underachiever. Though his IQ numbers and aptitude test scores were well above average, his grades were uneven, never approaching the plateau of A's and B's that might be expected of one who possesses such a pedagogical demeanor. His generally middling college grades at Harvard in fact bear a close resemblance to the corresponding Yale marks of his presidential opponent, George W. Bush, whose studiousness and brainpower have been more open to question during this campaign.

Gore arrived at Harvard with an impressive 1355 SAT score, 625 verbal and 730 math, compared with Bush's 1206 total from 566 verbal and 640 math. In his sophomore year at Harvard, Gore's grades were lower than any semester recorded on Bush's transcript from Yale. That was the year Gore's classmates remember him spending a notable amount of time in the Dunster House basement lounge shooting pool, watching television, eating hamburgers and occasionally smoking marijuana. His grades temporarily reflected his mildly experimental mood, and alarmed his parents. He received one D, one C-minus, two C's, two C-pluses and one B-minus, an effort that placed him in the lower fifth of the class for the second year in a row.

For all of Gore's later fascination with science and technology, he often struggled academically in those subjects. The political champion of the natural world received that sophomore D in Natural Sciences 6 (Man's Place in Nature) and then got a C-plus in Natural Sciences 118 his senior year. The self-proclaimed inventor of the Internet avoided all courses in mathematics and logic throughout college, despite his outstanding score on the math portion of the SAT. As was the case with many of his classmates, his high school math grades had dropped from A's to C's as he advanced from trigonometry to calculus in his senior year.

When John C. Davis, a retired teacher and assistant headmaster at St. Albans, was recently shown his illustrious former pupil's college board achievement test scores, he inspected them closely with a magnifier and shook his head, chuckling quietly at the science results.

"Four eighty-eight! Terrible" Davis declared upon inspecting the future vice president's 488 score (out of a possible 800) in physics.

Maraniss went on and on, openly mocking “the self-proclaimed inventor of the Internet,” who had a “reputation for being…sometimes pedantic.” Eventually, Maraniss raised the question of how Gore got into Harvard. And not only that: Why didn’t Candidate Gore release his transcripts?

Do these themes sound familiar?

MARANISS: Davis wrote Gore's recommendation, and said he was never concerned about the young man's transcript full of C's and B's and his middle rank in the class. "In Al's case he was what Harvard most wanted at that time," Davis said. "What they wanted was competent academic performance plus future potential. Plus they were very impressed by the fact that he was a political son. Colleges like Harvard, Princeton and Yale are just as excited to get important sons as top academic scholars. They want our boys as much as our boys want them. And Al was captain of the football team. Any nice big boy was welcome if he played football."

[…]

Gore has never released his transcripts, which were obtained independently by The Washington Post. Parts of them have been cited as well by Bill Turque, a Newsweek writer who has written a biography of Gore titled "Inventing Al Gore.”

Let’s be clear: Maraniss was apparently reporting a bunch of facts; he said he’d obtained Gore’s actual transcripts, for high school, for college, even for divinity school. (For ourselves, we’d quibble with one minor factual point—his use of the word “occasionally.”) But he, like Trump, raised the question of whether Gore had earned his way into Harvard. And can we talk? Based on what Remnick told O’Donnell, Trump may even have a bit of a point; Obama may have been helped by affirmative action, just as Gore may have been helped by the high status of his father.

Or so Maraniss, through Davis, now said.

Trump is behaving like a buffoon—but so were Davis and Maraniss, to the extent that Maraniss was pushing a whole set of buttons from the press corps’ assault on Gore. And by the way: Candidate Gore had once written a widely-praised book, just like Candidate Obama. But as the press corps’ war unfolded, that book was ridiculed, mocked. No one said ever Gore didn’t write it. (Trump is pimping the ludicrous claim that Obama’s book was written by the terrorist Ayers.) But in the pages of the New York Times, Earth in the Balance was repeatedly mocked as Candidate Gore’s “midlife crisis book” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/12/07). And good grief: When Michiko Kakutani re-examined Gore’s book for the Times, she made the book all about Naomi Wolf, who played no role in the book at all—much as Trump is now linking Dreams from My Father to Ayers. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/07.

These cases aren’t perfectly parallel; they almost never are. But candidates have been getting mocked for their grades and their books for some time now, although the liberal world seems to have no awareness of any event before 2007. Has there ever been a less informed cohort? Consider how dumb Darling Rachel was in pursuit of the pseudo-liberally mandated it-has-to-be-racism trope:

On Wednesday night, the darling child discussed the moronic attacks on Obama. At one point, she mused about the nation’s soul—then recited the mandated point. For starters, can you spot a small logical flaw in this child’s meditation?

MADDOW (4/27/11): People enjoy conspiracy theories. We are like that as a country. The JFK assassination or the moon landing or aliens at Roswell, or “9/11 was an inside job.” Americans like conspiracy theories. We just happen to be plumbed that way.

Sixty-six percent of Americans think the JFK assassination was part of a conspiracy. As of 2006, 36 percent thought it was likely—likely—the U.S. government allowed or carried out 9/11. Thirty-three percent of us think aliens have visited earth. Six percent still think the moon landing was faked—still!

It’s not always a ton of people, but enough of us, a good amount of Americans, fall for stuff! We are plumbed to believe this kind of stuff. And that makes this country fertile territory for another group of people that is promoting this. Another group of people that has a material interest in holding onto the “Barack Obama is secretly foreign” birth certificate story. And that group is Republican politicians. Not all of them, of course, but those Republican politicians who want to push this issue for, frankly, racist political advantage.

Politicians who don’t want to be known as racists, necessarily, but who want to politically capitalize on resentment and unacceptance of Barack Obama as a real American president. You can’t really be in mainstream national party politics right now and be overtly white supremacist about it, but birtherism is a convenient proxy for that.

Can you see the small flaw there? Maddow started by noting that people believe a lot of dumb stuff, about a whole lot of things. Why then is it automatically racist—white supremacist!—if they believe dumb stuff about Obama along with everything else? That said, a much larger logical flaw infected this hopeless child’s logic this night. Believe it or croak, this is how Maddow began her long ramble. The crackpot author to whom she refers is, of course, Jerome Corsi:

MADDOW: Before Barack Obama, the last Democrat to run for president was John Kerry. John Kerry, a Navy veteran—his rank was lieutenant when he was discharged. He earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam.

[…]

But then, of course, in 2004, he had the temerity to run for president against a sitting president who had started two wars but never fought in one. And so, part of the campaign against John Kerry was to try to erase his war hero status, to deny that he deserved the medals he had earned, to say that he was a coward, that he had lied to get those medals.

When you research the swift-boating of John Kerry, one of the most visually jarring things is when you get to the swift-boating book, the book that attacked him for his service in Vietnam. When you look at that book cover, look at that sash across the right corner there. Look at that Miss America-looking sash up there. The “New York Times number one best-seller” thing. Seriously, that thing.

The same guy who did the debunked but politically lethal swift-boating book has another potential number one best seller on the way. It’s not even out yet, but it hit number one on the Amazon best seller list last week. It’s called "Where’s the Birth Certificate: The Case that Barack Obama is Not Eligible to be President." This new book is being published by World Net Daily, which has been the sort of hub for the people on the right who have attacked President Obama as secretly foreign.

If you want to buy the new "President Obama is secretly foreign" book by the swift-boating guy, you do not have to go to Amazon, you can get it straight from the World Net Daily online superstore. They’re selling it at a discounted price…

Please note where Maddow started. She recalled the “swift-boating” of John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004. She noted that the guy who wrote that lethal, crackpot book about Kerry has now written a crackpot book about Obama’s birth. Let’s review: Corsi wrote a crackpot book about Kerry. Then, he wrote a crackpot book about Obama.

Why is the second crackpot book automatically said to be racist? Because that’s where this hopeless child quickly went, after this promising start.

Earth to liberals: Democratic nominees have been getting “swift-boated” since 1992! (Unless you count Dukakis, which makes it 1988.) Crackpot claims have rained on their heads in every single race—and very major public figures have driven these campaigns along. Jerry Falwell, who said both Clintons were killers, was every bit as big a cheese as Donald Trump is today.

This has been going on for the last twenty years! In the years after Kerry, the liberal world began to develop a language to discuss this conduct: “swift-boating.” But in 2008, Obama began to get swift-boated. And everything except his race flew right out of our heads.

White liberals reverted to our greatest joy—the joy of yelling race.

The liberal world has now forgotten about all this earlier conduct. On Wednesday night, we were all over the TV machine thingy, showing how astoundingly weak our own limbic brains really are.