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Caveat lector

WHERE WAS THE OUTRAGE? Bennett’s real vice became clear years ago. But pundits like Kinsley took a powder:

FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2003

TEN-MINUTE TAIL-GUNNER: There’s one basic rule to a Richard Cohen Column—it can’t take more than ten minutes to write. Result? Over the years, we’ve all paid a price for the gentleman’s sloth. In October 2000, for example Cohen savaged VP hopeful Joe Lieberman for something he said in a speech to B’nai B’rith. “I wonder what in the world he’s talking about,” Cohen thundered. Lieberman’s statement was “downright smug,” “preposterously false,” and “downright repugnant,” the disturbed pundit said. But there was one small problem with Cohen’s rant; it was actually George W. Bush, not Joseph Lieberman, who had visited B’nai B’rith and made the statement in question. That’s right—incredibly, Cohen spent an entire column trashing Lieberman for something Bush said! (The statement was perfectly reasonable.) But then, back in November 1999, similar consummate clowning had occurred. At that time, Cohen built an entire column, ridiculing Gore, around a quote from one of Naomi Wolf’s books. The only problem? The “quote” had never appeared in Wolf’s books, or anywhere else in her work, for that matter. It had (mistakenly) appeared in a thigh-rubbing, six-year-old Esquire piece, which Cohen had pulled out from under his bed and used for his ten-minute burst of hard “research.” Needless to say, Cohen didn’t show the slightest sign of knowing what Wolf’s books were actually about.

But yesterday, Cohen’s trademark Ten-Minute Tirade took on a new, ugly slant. In his Post column, Cohen said that Jeane Kirkpatrick was right all along when she called the Democratic Party the “blame America first crowd.” And not only that: “That same tendency to blame America for the moral shortcomings of others unfortunately permeates the left and the Democratic Party.” But as Cohen spewed his ugly blood libels, he managed to name exactly one name. And he named a person you’ve never heard of. Cohen gave us this name: Wayne S. Smith.

Who in the world is Wayne S. Smith? An adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, Smith was third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Havana from 1958 to 1961. He was chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1979 until 1982—and he’s now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, where he is an acknowledged expert on U.S. Cuba policy. Though Cohen (selectively) quotes a piece in The Nation—the better to slime Smith as a vile pinko—versions of the very same column appeared in the Baltimore Sun (April 15), the Atlanta Constitution (April 16), and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (April 21). Like almost everyone who isn’t trying to win elections in Florida, Smith is a critic of U.S. policy in Cuba. But he is very much within the mainstream. Duh! He was quoted as an expert in a Washington Post Cuba story as recently as April 12.

And oh yes! One other thing about Wayne S. Smith—he doesn’t represent the Democratic Party. We don’t know if Smith is a registered Dem, but he isn’t a Democratic Party official and he isn’t a Democratic Party office-holder. But so what! Cohen’s ten minutes were running out, and he felt like slandering Dems on this day. So in a column which makes a sweeping blood-libel about “the Democratic Party,” Cohen managed to quote only Smith! Everything else the worthless man did, he did by innuendo—and by paraphrase.

How stupid is the Post’s op-ed page? As he began to run out of time, Cohen typed faster and faster:

COHEN: That same tendency to blame America for the moral shortcomings of others unfortunately permeates the left and the Democratic Party. I wish it were otherwise, but I got the first whiff of it after Sept. 11 when some people reacted to the terrorist attacks here by blaming U.S. policy…Had we not supported Israel, had we not backed the corrupt Saudi monarchy, had we not been buddies with Egypt, had we not been somehow complicit in Third World poverty, had we not developed blue jeans and T-shirts and rock music and premarital sex, the World Trade Center might still be standing and the Pentagon untouched.
A sweeping and ugly blood libel. But which “Democrats” had said that the World Trade Center might be standing if only the U.S. hadn’t come up with blue jeans? As a matter of fact, who said any of this stuff? Cohen, of course, didn’t bother to say. Nor did the vile, ten-minute tinpot flesh out this ugly remark:
COHEN: The same sort of reasoning—if it can be called that—surfaced before and during the war with Iraq. Although I supported the war, I could always understand some of the arguments against it. But I could not understand those who said the war was about oil or empire or reconstruction contracts and who seemed to think that Saddam Hussein was the lesser of two evils—the United States being the greater, of course.
According to Cohen, these views “permeate” the Democratic Party. But which Democrat said “that Saddam Hussein was the lesser of two evils—the United States being the greater, of course?” Wouldn’t you know it—Cohen failed to say. By the way—many conservatives made the oil/empire critiques, as everyone except Cohen surely knows.

It’s hard to believe that the Washington Post keeps putting this lazy, inept man into print. Of course, the Post has loved these McCarthyite rants before, when they were being penned by the late Michael Kelly. When Kelly died, many rising young “liberals” crossed their fingers and praised him for his great gifts to their craft. But Cohen used his ten minutes better. He honored the deceased with more mindless work. At the Post, it was thrown into print.

GRAHAM WANTS TO CRACK HER: And then, on the pro-wrestling spin-off show Hardball, we hear loathsome men telling the world that they’d like to beat Hillary Clinton with tire irons. On Wednesday night, Chris Matthews raised the question of Globe pundit Bob Ryan’s remark about Joumana Kidd. “I’d like to smack her,” Ryan said, for which he got a one-month suspension. The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel opined first:

VANDEN HEUVEL: As a woman I find it offensive, cruel, ignorant about the problems of domestic abuse and violence. As an editor, it bothers me that a newspaper would suspend a columnist.
Now Matthews turned to half-witted Michael Graham, a former “comedian” turned talk-show host. Why was Graham on the show? Because Hardball is a form of pro wrestling, and because Graham knows the latest stupid scripts:
MATTHEWS: Michael Graham, what do you think?

GRAHAM: I’m not a woman or an editor. But as a human being, I found the line a joke. It was a joke. It was just an off the cuff comment. Anyone listening to Hillary Rodham in her speech last week about patriotism, that screaming, screeching fingernail, I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron.That’s what I wanted to do.

And no, he showed no sign of “joking.” “Counting on Michael Graham, he’s in the controversy,” Matthews responded. “Thank you, Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Michael Graham, it was great having you joining us.”

Graham’s “book” is called Redneck Nation. And by the way, that’s the nation in which you increasingly live. Last Thursday night Matthews—a devoted thigh-rubber—spent two consecutive segments imagining Hillary Clinton having sex. Wednesday night, his slobbering guest dreamed of beating the female senator on the street with a tire iron. MSNBC won’t stop this mess, but here’s a question that did come to mind. How many millions does Matthews’ wife have to have before she tells her husband that he simply must stop this?

The Daily update

WHERE WAS THE OUTRAGE: In the comedy context, Bill Bennett is easy. After all, there was good news and bad news in his gambling misadventures. It’s true, he lost about $8 million—but he did get those free drinks and meals. And if you’ve seen Bennett around D.C., you’ll know that he may have broken even.

But in the real world, sound judgment is harder. Last week, Michael Kinsley wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece, taking pleasure in Bennett’s defrocking. “Sinners have long cherished the fantasy that William Bennett, the virtue magnate, might be among our number,” he wrote. “The news over the weekend…has lit a lamp of happiness in even the darkest hearts.” There was just one problem, according to Kinsley. “Let’s also be honest that gambling would not be our first-choice vice if we were designing this fantasy-come-true…But gambling will do,” Kinsley concluded. “It will definitely do.”

It was fun to learn that Bill had a vice. Michael was sad that the vice was so trivial. But guess what? Bennett’s real vice became clear long ago—and Kinsley didn’t want to expose it.

Bill Bennett’s actual vice? Bill Bennett has a problem with the truth, as has been clear for some time. Consider his Wall Street Journal op-ed, way back on October 11, 2000. The headline played rough: “A Lifetime of Lies.” Here was his opening paragraph:

BENNETT: Albert Arnold Gore Jr. is a habitual liar.
That was it! Bennett used the Three Full Names we reserve for serial murderers. And it’s no wonder—the great man was fuming:
BENNETT: The vice president lies reflexively, promiscuously, even pathologically. He lies on matters large and small, significant and trivial, when he “needs” to and when he doesn’t, on matters public and private, about his opponents and his family.
Later in the foot-stamping piece, Bennett appointed himself Chief of All Shrinks:
BENNETT: [W]ith Mr. Gore, one begins to suspect that his lies are symptomatic of something fundamentally disquieting…His lying appears to be incorrigible. And it is a matter of public record.
So let’s see. According to Bennett, Gore was an “habitual,” “promiscuous,” “pathological” liar. The dude had produced a “lifetime of lies.” Surely, Bennett had many lies to cite as he fleshed out his portrait of Gore. Which made it surprising when the man of virtue served this stale cant to his readers:
BENNETT: In November 1999…the vice president claimed to be the author of the Earned Income Tax Credit. In fact, the EITC law was enacted in 1975—two years before Mr. Gore entered Congress.
Snore! There it was, that same old saw which had been debunked so often. A simple review of Gore’s remark (in a November 99 interview with Time) shows that he referred to “the extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit,” not to the EITC itself. One would think—with a “lifetime to lies” from which to choose—the scribe wouldn’t need any gimmicked-up quotes. But Bennett was willing to do and say anything. Here was another example:
BENNETT: He claims that he did not know at the time that a 1996 event at a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles was an (illegal) fund-raiser. He says this despite the fact that…his own e-mail referred to it as a fund-raiser before the visit occurred.
Snore! As had been explained to the Thompson Committee three years earlier, this e-mail was sent in mid-March 1996, weeks before the Buddhist temple was chosen as the site of the proposed L.A. luncheon. Also made clear in those ancient hearings: When the Hsi Lai temple was picked as the site, the plan to charge a fee was dropped. The luncheon at the Buddhist temple was free, as Gore was told in the weeks after that e-mail. But “conservative” spinners had faked this fact all through Campaign 2000, and our greatest Man of Virtue was faking the pleasing fact still.

But then, Bennett clowned his way all through the column. Three years later, Kinsley thinks that we’ve finally spotted his vice. In fact, people like Kinsley hid behind desks while the sliming of Clinton, then Gore, proceeded. We recall when Kinsley was the brightest scribe of his era. But years ago, he simply stopped trying. Now they reprint his work—at the Post!