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PUNDITRY LOST! Joe Klein lies in the reader’s face–and shows us his dreadful ethics: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 3, 2006

VAGUE AND VAGUER: In our view, it almost never happens. But yesterday, Kevin Drum displayed a small bit of analytical weakness when he touted the following statement from Hardball’s David Shuster:
SHUSTER (5/2/06): Intelligence sources say Valerie Wilson was part of an operation three years ago tracking the proliferation of nuclear weapons material into Iran. And the sources allege that when Mrs. Wilson's cover was blown, the administration's ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged as well. The White House considers Iran to be one of America's biggest threats.
“I don't really know what to make of this,” Kevin wrote. “If it's true, it's a bombshell, and yet it was dropped almost casually into the middle of Shuster's report and wasn't followed up in any way.” (Kevin records what Chris Matthews said in response to Shuster’s bombshell. “Great. Thank you, David Shuster," Matthews said.)

“If it’s true, it’s a bombshell,” Kevin said. At this point, we’ll have to disagree. Indeed, it isn’t a question of whether the statement is “true.” The actual question is this: Has Shuster even made a real statement? In fact, Shuster’s statement is most striking for its vagueness; according to his unnamed sources, “when Mrs. Wilson's cover was blown, the administration's ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged as well.” The administration’s ability “was damaged?” This may mean nothing more than the following: Mrs. Wilson had to leave the CIA—and someone had to be trained to replace her. As a general matter, prudent analysts will assume the following: When anonymous people make oddly vague statements, there’s often less there than meets the eye. Often, they’ve crafted an oddly vague statement because they have nothing important to tell.

But out here on the excitable web, we’re eager to thrill to perfect tales. (Indeed, some of our leaders are just making sh*t up, then declining to correct their misstatements.) A few weeks ago, Kevin cited a similar bombshell-type statement, this time in the Washington Post—and again, he wondered why the Post had treated the bombshell so casually. (In this case, the bombshell had been buried it inside a long, complex story. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/17/06.) Here we see that prior statement—the bombshell the Post didn’t highlight:

GELLMAN/LINZER (4/9/06): [T]he White House Iraq Group, formed in August 2002 to foster "public education" about Iraq's "grave and gathering danger" to the United States, repeatedly pitched the uranium story...

Tenet interceded to keep the claim out of a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, but by Dec. 19 it reappeared in a State Department "fact sheet." After that, the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.

The council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

Wow! The National Intelligence Council reported, in January 03, that “[t]he Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest!” And this “had not been reported before,” Gellman and Linzer declared. But Kevin asked a sensible question—why had the writers buried this story deep inside a lengthy report? Back then, we suggested what we suggest again today: The report in question was hopelessly vague. Gellman and Linzer had no direct quotes from this report; to all appearances, they simply didn’t know what this report had actually said. (Nor could they know how this report had somehow managed to prove a negative.) To all appearances, they had been handed a very vague story—and, like Powell preparing for the UN, they decided to “toss it in.” But they chose not to play it too big.

What did that NIC report really say? Gellman and Linzer don’t seem to know. And this week, how was “the administration's ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions” damaged when Valerie Plame’s cover was blown? Most likely, Shuster doesn’t know that either. If we’re trying to get at the truth, we’ll be wary of such oddly vague stories.

For clarity, let’s return to what Shuster said: “When Mrs. Wilson's cover was blown, the administration's ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged as well.” Kevin called that report a “bombshell”—but it doesn’t come close to that status as yet. Indeed, it may be the latest bit of chump bait—a suggestive story designed to please rubes. And please stand warned: Increasingly, Shuster is proving a willing conduit of all such pleasing rube-rousers.

HAMSHER GETS IT RIGHT: First, Shuster claimed that the NIE didn’t say squat about uranium from Africa. That claim was just amazingly wrong, but so what—he served it up anyway (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/06). Then, Jane Hamsher nailed another howler by Shuster (you know what to do—just click here). This week, Shuster is making this oddly vague claim about the way the administration’s “ability” was “damaged.” Let’s face it—Shuster is well on his way to beicomng a hack, a conduit for rube-pleasing rip-roar. And we’ve even met David once or twice, and we like him just fine.

Here’s the good news, though. Just as we have learned from Drum, Hamsher has been plainly learning from us. Patriotically swallowing her pride, she stepped up and did the right thing, corrected that howler by Shuster. And she hasn’t referred to any female journalist’s private parts in what seems like an age. Imitation being a form of flattery, we’ll just say that, yes, it feels good when we see our own high-class habits spreading all over the web.

In our view, Drum is weak on press issues, of course. It’s our one complaint.

Special report—Punditry lost!

PART 3—DREADFUL ETHICS: How easy is life as a Washington pundit? This morning, it’s David Ignatius who shows us, offering up this Scripted Column about the great saint, Saint McCain. (“A Man Who Won’t Sell His Soul,” says the headline.) Ignatius knows his cohort’s scripts. And he’s ready to sit down and type them:

IGNATIUS (5/3/06): Some people (Bill Clinton comes to mind) have a knack for making easy compromises on the road to election, but McCain isn't one of them.

"I don't want it that badly," McCain says. "I will continue to do what is right...The worst thing I can do is sell my soul to the devil.”

Yes, Bill Clinton always “comes to mind” when men like Ignatius sit to type. Just remember their famous script, the one that’s already coming at you as we prepare for Campaign 08: Democrat hopefuls are fake, inauthentic. Republicans are straight-talking straight-shooters. Our pundit corps will apply this script daily. Dems must start planning right now. (More on this column tomorrow.)

To put it kindly, this Ignatius column came straight from the can. Others have written it hundreds of times—and colleagues will type it a thousand times more. But surely, no one does a better job of laying out this Great Pundit Script than the hapless, inane Joe Klein in his laughable Politics Lost. Klein reviews events of the past forty years, and all such events must prove One Great Thing; all events must help us see how fake those Dem hopefuls really are. Is George Bush “demagogic and quite often wrong on the facts” at his first debate with Gore? Yes he was, Klein correctly writes—but it’s Gore’s alleged sighs which have Klein’s goat! And all throughout this laughable book, Klein puts down such laughable judgments. To Klein, it’s OK when a demagogue lies. It wrong when Dems “sigh” in response.

As we’ll see in the next several weeks, it takes a truly empty mind to put such absolute nonsense in print. But as we’ve seen for the past dozen years, it take something else—ruined, fake ethics. Especially in the case of Gore, Klein’s addled class has been willing to dissemble, misstate, mislead and lie to prove their Great Case against the Great Faker. Before we spend out time next week laying out the themes of Klein’s hopeless book, we thought we should start with the latest example. We should start with Joe Klein’s fallen ethics.

Democrats are fake, inauthentic. Republicans are straight-talking straight-shooters. Klein is willing to do and say anything to make you believe this implausible story. Let’s consider what he says about Gore.

As we’ve noted, Klein types up his gang’s Greatest Script—the “unhinged” Gore is “perhaps the apotheosis of political inauthenticity” (page xxx). Near the end of his Chapter 5, more than halfway through his daft book, Klein shows how fake and poll-driven Gore was. He types His Cohort’s Great Script:

KLEIN (page 157): Ah, the research! Gore seemed all tangled up in the polling data. If sighing and body language in the debates seemed a way to defy his consultants [don’t even ask], he was slavishly devoted to their numbers with every word he uttered. A particularly dreadful moment came midway through the second debate [with Bush], when the discussion turned to the murderous rampage by two students toting a small arsenal of weapons into Columbine High School, in Colorado.
There you see the perfect expression of our millionaire pundits’ great script. This fake and inauthentic Democrat was “all tangled up in the polling data.” In fact, he was “slavishly devoted” to these data, “with every word he uttered. And this led to a “perfectly dreadful moment” when this Democrat debated with Bush. According to Klein, this “perfectly dreadful moment” occurred “when the discussion turned to” Columbine. And now, Joe Klein lets us look at his ethics. Continuing directly from above, here is the clip he provides:
BUSH: Let me say something about Columbine. Listen, we've got gun laws. He says we ought to have gun-free schools. Everybody believes that...But there seems to be a lot of preoccupation on—not only in this debate, but just in general—on law. But there's a larger law, love your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself. [Klein’s ellipses]

GORE: I also believe in the Golden Rule, and I agree with a lot of the other things that the governor has said.

Pitiful, isn’t it? You’d surely think several things from this passage. You’d surely think “the discussion turned to” Columbine when Candidate Bush took it there, and that Gore just offered meek words of agreement. Continuing directly, Klein essentially lies in your face as he explains why this shows how fake this Dem is—as he proves his Great Theme:
KLEIN (continuing directly): Gore had given one of the most passionate speeches of his life at the memorial service for the murdered Columbine students [in April 1999]. For more than a year, he had attended town meetings across the country where Columbine had been a topic of great concern, often the very first issue raised. Bush had signed a law—speaking of laws—that allowed Texans to carry concealed weapons into church. The vast majority of Americans agreed with Gore on this issue—but his consultants wanted him to lowball gun control because there were lots of gun lovers in Pennsylvania and Michigan, crucial states he needed to win if he wanted to be elected president.

Well, he won Michigan and Pennsylvania. But he lost the election, even though the public agreed with him on most issues. He lost the election—actually it was a dead heat—because he did not seem like a credible human being. And he did not seem like a credible human being because he had shoe-horned himself inside the Message Box that had been created for him—because he had been polled and focus-grouped and dial-grouped and market-tested literally to the point of distraction. [emphasis by Klein]

Yes. As if to issue a cry for help, Klein did use—and italicize—the word “literally.” This Dem had “literally” been driven to distraction by his devotion to polls!

Klein was driving home his Great Script. Gore was simply a slave to the polls—and this was the “dreadful moment” which proved it. The “dreadful moment” occurred when discussion turned to Columbine—and Klein, essentially lying in our faces, lets us think that Bush took it there, and that Gore just mumbled agreement. But in fact, that’s nothing like what happened in that part of the Bush-Gore debate. As his cohort did throughout Campaign 2000, Klein is simply deceiving his readers. He’s displaying the fallen ethics of his daft cohort. For the record, this is the ethics to which Peter Beinart signed on when he penned Sunday’s fawning Post piece (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/1/06).

What actually happened in this part of this Bush-Gore debate? In fact, this discussion on guns lasted for over eight minutes—for eight minutes and forty seconds, to be exact. Each candidate spoke three separate times (Gore/Bush, Gore/Bush, Gore/Bush). And when did the “discussion turn to Columbine?” The discussion “turned to Columbine” when Gore took it there, in his second statement (also mentioning Paducah); what Klein has quoted is part of Bush’s second statement (in which he responds to Gore’s Columbine reference), and the tiniest part of Gore third statement—a statement in which Gore quickly returned to his demand for more gun laws. (We post the complete discussion below.) In fact, this dreadful part of Politics Lost constitutes perfect deception by Klein. Essentially, Klein lies in his readers’ faces to construct a “perfectly dreadful moment”—a dreadful moment which would prove his great theme, about how poll-driven this dreadful Dem was. Gore was the “apotheosis,” Klein says. And he invents a fake moment to prove it.

By the way, how absurd is Klein’s overall claim about Gore’s handling of the gun issue? As early as December 2000, Dem strategists had largely come to agree that Gore’s stance in favor of gun control had likely cost him the election in states like West Virginia and Tennessee. (Especially in Tennessee, where the NRA ran an extensive, widely-discussed TV ad campaign, slashing Gore for his pro-gun control stance.) As everyone on earth except Klein surely knows, that’s why you’ve seen virtually no gun control campaigning by national Dems from that day to the present. Is it possible that Klein doesn’t know these things? It seems a bit hard to believe, but frankly, the author of this book is so daft, so inane, so divorced from reality that this may even be possible. But make no mistake—this grand culmination of Klein’s chapter on Gore is an act of outright deception, in which Klein cherry-picks from this debate in a way which is plainly designed to deceive. Understand: To “prove” that this Dem was so deeply poll-driven, Klein was forced to invent a moment—a “dreadful moment” that didn’t exist. But this has long been the noxious ethics of the Millionaire Pundit Corps—the empty gang of empty graspers who now have control of our discourse. And worthless young climbers—young climbers like Beinart—have accepted this ugly ethics for years. Ten years from now, Beinart will be a Millionaire Pundit too—and as we’ll discuss in more detail tomorrow, he seems to have no plans to blow his chance to rake in that lucre. He’s been ducking this issue for years.

Readers, before discussing this book’s daffy themes, we felt we had to show you Klein’s ethics. There are other such passages in this book—passages where Klein has to “edit” hard to “prove” how fake those Democrats are. We’ll lay out a few more in the weeks ahead. But in this passage, we see the fallen ethics of Klein—and every part of Klein’s daffy book must be understood in light of this ethical problem. Klein’s cohort has lied and dissembled about Big Dems for years—always in service to their daft scripts—and Millionaire Pundits of the future have chosen to ignore this small problem. These scripts are already driving Campaign 08. Dems must start fighting back now.

TOMORROW—PART 4: Beinart’s silence.

THE FULL DISCUSSION: Below, we see the full eight minutes and 40 seconds from which Klein did his picking-and-choosing. We’ll highlight the parts which Klein cherry-picked (you’ll have to scroll a good way to reach them). By the way—note how Klein omits the word “But” from the first sentence by Bush which he quotes. Duh—this keeps the reader from seeing that Bush is referring to something Gore has already said. This is a deeply fallen cohort. At THE HOWLER, we’re sick of their empty lives and their fallen “ethics”—and we’re sick of the millionaires-to-be, the good boys who won’t blow their future chances by discussing what this cohort has done.

A few more points:

No, Gore didn’t mention the Texas “guns in church” law, the point which has Klein in such a tizzy. But notice that Gore did criticize a more current Texas gun problem, in his second statement. According to Klein, Gore’s failure to mention guns-in-church represents the fact that “his consultants wanted him to lowball gun control.” As Gore cites this other Texas gun problem, you can see that this too is pure garbage. There he goes again! Klein is baldly deceiving his readers, for reasons only he can explain.

Second, note one of Bush’s “demagogic” misstatements, during his first presentation. Gore didn’t support registration of guns—but that was part of the NRA’s disinformation campaign, and so Bush quickly repeated it here, forcing Gore to deny it. (Bush reversed himself, saying “or get a license, I guess, licensing, like a driver's license” when Gore shook his head at what he was saying.)

Finally, the overall point: Klein makes it sound like Gore was so “slavishly devoted” to polling—so “tangled up in the polling data”—that he said nothing about gun control at all. In fact, the reality is quite the reverse. In this debate, Gore proposed a range of new gun control laws—and most likely, this is the policy area which cost him most in Campaign 2000. In the face of those demagogic TV ads, Gore’s reassurances to “hunters and sportsmen” didn’t turn out to be strong enough. We’d have to assume that Klein knows this. But in Klein’s group, scripts come first.

From Bush-Gore Debate 2—October 11, 2000:

JIM LEHRER (10/11/00): New subject, new question. Vice President Gore, how do you see the connection between controlling gun sales in this country, and the incidents of death by accidental or intentional use of guns?

GORE: Jim, I hope that we can come back to the subject of education, because the governor made an extensive statement on it, and I have a very different view than the one he—than the one he expressed. But that having been said, I believe that—well, first of all, let me say that the governor and I agree on some things where this subject is concerned. I will not do anything to affect the rights of hunters or sportsmen. I think that home owners have to be respected in their right to have a gun if they wish to. The problem I see is that there are too many guns getting into the hands of children and criminals and people who, for—for whatever reason—some kind of history of--of stalking or domestic abuse—really should not be able to get guns. I think these assault weapons are—are—are a problem. So I favor closing the gun show loophole. In fact, I cast a tie-breaking vote to—to close it. But then the majority in the House of Representatives went the other way. That's still pending. If we could get agreement on that [nodding at Bush], maybe they could pass that in the final days of this Congress.

I think we ought to restore the three-day waiting period under the—under the Brady law. I think we should toughen the enforcement of gun laws so that the ones that are already on the books can be enforced much more effectively. Some of the restrictions that have been placed by the Congress in—in the last couple of years, I think, in the last few years, I think, have been unfortunate. I think that we ought to, to make all schools gun-free; have a gun-free zone around every school in this country. I think that measures like these are important. Child safety trigger locks on a mandatory basis, and others.

LEHRER: Governor?

BUSH: Well, it starts with enforcing the law. When you say loud and clear to somebody if you're going to carry a gun illegally, we're going to arrest you; if you're going to sell a gun illegally, we're going to arrest you, and if you commit a crime with a gun, there needs to be absolute certainty in the law. And, and that needs—the—the—the local law enforcement officials need help at the federal level. They need programs like Project Exile, where the federal government intensifies arresting people who illegally use guns. And we haven't done a very good job of that at the federal level recently, and I'm going to make it a—a priority. Secondly, I don't think we ought to be selling guns to people who shouldn't have them. That's why I support instant background checks at—at gun shows. One of the reasons we have an instant background check is so that we instantly know whether or not somebody should have a gun or not.

In Texas I tried to do something innovative, which is that—you know, there was a lot of talk about, you know, trigger locks being on guns sold in the future. I support that. But I said, listen, if you want a trigger lock to make your—your gun safe, come to—come and get one for free, and so we're distributing them in our state of Texas for free. I think we ought to raise the age at which a juvenile can carry a handgun from 18 to 21. I disagree with the vice president on this issue. I don't—he—he's for registration of guns. I think the only people who are going to show up to register—or get a license, I guess, licensing, like a driver's license—of a gun, the only people who will show up are law-abiding citizens. The criminal's not going to show up and say, “Hey, give me my ID card.” It's the law-abiding citizens who'll do that and I—I just—I don't think that's going to be an effective tool that'll make the—make—make the—keep our society safe.

LEHRER: All right. So on guns, somebody wants to—wants to cast a vote based on your differences, where are the differences?

GORE: Well, I'm not for registration. I am for licensing by states of new handgun purchases.

LEHRER: What is that—what's that mean?

GORE: A photo license ID, like—like a driver's license, for new handguns and—and, you know, the—the Los Angeles—

LEHRER: Excuse me. You would have to get the license—a photo ID to go in and before you could buy the gun?

GORE: Correct.

LEHRER: All right.

GORE: At, at the time.

LEHRER: And who would issue—who would issue the—

GORE: The state.

LEHRER: The state.

GORE: The state. I think states should—should do that for new handguns because too many criminals are getting guns. There was a recent investigation of the—of the number in Texas who got, who were given concealed weapons permits in spite of the fact that they, they had records and the Los Angeles Times has spent a lot of ink going into that. But I am not for doing anything that would affect hunters or sportsmen, rifles, shotguns, existing handguns. I do think that, that sensible gun safety measures are warranted now. Look, this is the year—this is in the aftermath of Columbine and Paducah and all of the places around our country where the nation has been shocked by these, these weapons in the hands of the wrong people. The woman who bought the guns for the two boys who did that killing at Columbine said that if she had had to--to--to--to give her name and fill out a form there, she would not have bought those guns. That conceivably could have prevented that tragedy.

LEHRER: Back to the question about the differences on gun control, what are they, Governor, from your point of view, between you and the vice president?

BUSH: Well, I'm not for—I'm not for photo licensing. But let me say something about Columbine. And it's—we've got gun laws. He says we ought to have gun-free schools. Everybody believes that. And I'm sure every state in the Union's got them. You can't carry a gun into a school. And there ought to be a consequence when you do carry a gun into a school. But Columbine spoke to a larger issue and it—it's—it's really a matter of culture. It's a culture that somewhere along the line we've begun to disrespect life. If a child can walk in and can have their heart turned dark as a result of being on the Internet and walk in and decide to take somebody else's life—so gun laws are important—no question about it—but so is loving children and, you know, character education classes and faith-based programs being a part of after-school programs. Somebody—some desperate child needs to have somebody put their arm around them and say, 'We love you.' And so there's—it's a—a society that—of ours that's got to do a better job of teaching children right from wrong. And we can enforce law. But there seems to be a lot of preoccupation on—not necessarily this debate—but just in general in law, but there's a larger law, love your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself and that's where our society must head if we're going to be a peaceful and, and prosperous society.

GORE: I also believe in the Golden Rule, and I agree with a lot of the other things that the governor has said. We do have a—a serious problem in our culture. Tipper and I have worked on the problem of violence and entertainment ained at—aimed at children. She's worked on it longer than I have, but I feel very strongly about that. And if—if I'm elected president, I will do something about that. But I think that we have—I think we have to start with better parenting. But I don't think that we can ignore the role played by guns. I mean the fact is that there—even though no state wants them, there are guns in some schools, and the reason it's so difficult for schools to control that is because in recent years, there has been a flood of cheap handguns that are so widely available, that kids are finding ways to get ahold of them. And I think that if—if you look at the situation as it exists here in the United States, compared to any other country in the world, it seems to me pretty obvious that while we respect the rights of hunters and sportsmen, we do need some commonsense gun safety steps to stem this flood of guns that are getting into the wrong hands.

LEHRER: Do—

BUSH: Yeah, no question about that. But there's—also needs to be strong enforcement of the law. Some kid who feels like they—it doesn't matter where the gun comes from. It could be a cheap gun, expensive gun. What matters is something in this person's head says there's not going to be a consequence. So in my state, we toughen up the juvenile justice laws. We added beds. We are—we're tough. We believe in tough love. We say, “If you get caught carrying a gun, you're automatically detained.” And that's what needs to happen. And we've got laws. If laws need to be strengthened like instant background checks, that—that's important.

LEHRER: New question.

BUSH: OK.